by Hope Madden
Like the mournful soul that clings to poor bridegroom Piotr (Itay Tiran), Demon sticks to you.
Director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s final feature (he ended his life at a recent festival where the film was playing) offers a spooky, atmospheric rumination on cultural loss.
The tale unravels in a single day. The British Piotr travels to his Polish fiance’s old family vacation home for a proper Catholic wedding. There he attempts to maneuver a new language, impress reluctant in-laws, and grasp wife-to-be Zaneta’s (Agnieszka Zulewska) heritage. Though Zaneta’s family is reluctant to embrace him, a wandering spirit is happy to.
Wrona sets the Hebrew folktale of the dybbuk – a ghost that possesses the living – inside a Catholic wedding, accomplishing two things in the process. On the surface, he tells an affecting ghost story. More deeply, though, he laments cultural amnesia and reminds us that our collective past continues to haunt us.
Performances are uniformly excellent, whether Tiran’s vulnerable groom, Andrzej Grabowski’s blowhard father-in-law, Zulewska’s tormented bride or any of the dozens of judgmental, drunk or ridiculous wedding guests. With their help, the story rides on an undercurrent of absurdist humor that consistently surprises as it injects an otherwise slowly building dread with energy.
Together with cinematographer and frequent collaborator Pawel Flis, whose sepia tones offer the look of a well-worn wedding photo, the filmmaker creates an atmosphere without a clear timestamp. It affords the film a dreamy quality that straddles generations and suggests that anything could happen.
With just a hint of Kubrick – never a bad place to go for ghost story inspiration – Wrona combines the familiar with the surprising. His film echoes with a deeply felt pain -a sense of anguish, often depicted as scenes of celebration clash with unexplained images of abject grief.
Demon aches with loss, surprises with humor, and marks an artistic voice too soon lost.