Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: "Demon"

A Polish/Israeli horror/comedy? Color me intrigued.

But, alas, not entertained. "Demon" is set in a tiny Polish village on the night of a huge wedding that apparently all the locals are invited to. Things slowly start to go from awkward to disturbing, with visions of dead girls and skeletons in the ground.

The groom begins acting weird, until it becomes clear he has been taken over by a dybbuk, a mythological Jewish spirit that wanders the earth, possessing humans in an attempt to resolve their torment.

It sounds like a neat idea, sort of a Blair-Witch-meets-The-Exorcist affair but with lots of vodka and dancing. Alas, director Marcin Wrona, who co-wrote the script with Pawel Maslona, fails to build tension or a pervading sense of dread. The film ends up being a spectacle of people trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Its main problem is that people never... stop... talking.

They yap and yap and yap. Every fearful encounter only elicits more rambling conversations. People argue and do little. Even as the groom strips off his clothes on the dance floor and starts convulsing with dark spirits, the father of the bride is telling everyone not to worry, it's nothing, let's open some more bottles.

Strangely, nobody leaves the reception. I like to think I'm the polite sort, but if I'm at a party and the guest of honor starts speaking in tongues, it's time to make up an excuse about the babysitter calling.

Not to get all nationalistic here, but one thing American horror filmmakers discovered long ago was the power of silence. You can often communicate a lot more through visuals, sound effects and music than having a bunch of people standing around talking about what's going on.

It's never a good thing when you're constantly thinking about the characters, "Just please shut up for awhile."
The bride is a popular local girl, Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), daughter of the relatively wealthy owner of a mining company, while the groom is a Brit, Piotr (Itay Tiran), whom the parents and the rest of the family are just meeting for the first time. He speaks Polish passably well, seems to be a well-to-do professional type.

His father-in-law (Andrzej Grabowski) provides them with a run-down house to fix up as their own. While running an earth mover nearby, Piotr uncovers an old skeleton. When he tries to show it to others, not only the body but his entire excavation disappears. Then he has a dream -- or is it?? -- about being swallowed up in the mud.

The wedding goes off without a hitch, except for Piotr experiencing a little tic during the exchange of rings. But as the rain pours down on the barn where the reception is taking place, his behavior gets weirder and weirder. At first Zaneta's family tries to say he is simply drunk, but it's clearly something more sinister.

They bring in a doctor (sort of ... his qualifications seem spotty) to offer his opinion. A priest offers little assistance. An elderly professor, who had just been dismissed from the stage for his rambling toast, relates the tragedy of a Jewish girl, Hanna, who disappeared when he was just a boy -- which would have been right around the Holocaust. As one man observes, the country is practically built on corpses.

I'll leave the plot summary there, as you can probably guess what follows. "Demon" is a great idea for a movie than never comes to fruition.

On a sad note, Marcin Wrona killed himself right before the film's release -- and shortly after his own wedding -- apparently disappointed it didn't win a film festival prize.

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