Toronto Film Review: ‘Demon’

A wedding-crashing ghost causes trouble in Marcin Wrona’s initially intriguing but ultimately frustrating drama.

Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt, Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Agnieszka Zulewska. (Polish, English, Yiddish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4935158/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1

Up until its unfortunate third-act detour from intriguing verisimilitude to frustrating abstraction, director Marcin Wrona’s “Demon” enthralls as an atmospheric ghost story with a cheeky undercurrent of absurdist humor. This modern-day take on the dybbuk legend of Jewish folklore, which Wrona and co-scripter Pawel Maslona adapted from the 2008 play “Adherence” by Piotr Rowicki, doubtless will haunt a few screens on the global fest circuit. But commercial prospects appear limited, since the film isn’t likely to satisfy either genre fans or arthouse habitues.

Itay Tiran gives an impressively vivid yet understated performance as Piotr, an affable young man who journeys from England to marry his beloved Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) at her family’s country home in rural Poland. While wandering around the property, which he and Zaneta will receive as a wedding present from her father, Zgmunt (Andrzej Grabowski), Piotr uncovers what appear to be human remains. For reasons not immediately clear — maybe he doesn’t want to be a party pooper? — he tosses dirt back on to the bones, and tells no one about his discovery. This is a big mistake.

During the wedding party at the family homestead, Piotr begins to behave strangely, then scarily. At first, his new wife and her brother Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt) write off his odd actions as alcohol-induced. As Piotr’s convulsions increase, Zgmunt suspects his son-in-law is epileptic, and has him carried away to another part of the house.

Only gradually does it become clear that the unfortunate groom has been possessed by the restless spirit of a young woman who vanished from the community decades earlier. Zaneta is understandably upset. So is Zgmunt, but for a markedly different reason: He’s worried about what his friends and neighbors will think of his son-in-law’s strange behavior, and how that might reflect on him. So he does his best to get the wedding guests as obliviously drunk as possible, in the hope they won’t notice that the dybbuk has stopped here.

“Demon” occasionally strikes faint echoes of “Contract,” Krzysztof Zanussi’s 1980 dramedy about a wedding party that brings out the worst in everyone. Indeed, the film is most entertaining when it plays its premise for laughs — noting just how embarrassing it can be to have a ghost as an unwelcome wedding guest — even though the supernatural elements are handled seriously and, for the most part, effectively.

When it comes time for a resolution, however, Wrona behaves very much like a cartoon character who, after painting himself into a corner, simply paints a door onto a nearby wall and takes his leave through it. Ambiguity is a worthy artistic goal, of course. But when “Demon” ends, the audience is left to sort through a thicket of dangling plot threads.

Toronto Film Review: 'Demon'

Reviewed online, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2015. (In Toronto Film Festival — Vanguard.) Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: (Poland-Israel) A Magnet Man Films production in association with Telewizja Polska, the Chimney Pot, Transfax Film Prods., Lava Films, Krakow Festival Office, Silesia Film and Wajda Studio. Produced by Marcin Wrona. Executive producer, Olga Szymanska.

Crew: Directed by Marcin Wrona. Screenplay, Wrona, Pawel Maslona, based on the play “Adherence” by Piotr Rowicki. Camera (color), Pawel Flis; editor, Piotr Kmiecik; music, Krzysztof Penderecki, Marcin Macuk; production designer, Anna Wunderlich; sound, Tomasz Sikora.

With: Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt, Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Agnieszka Zulewska. (Polish, English, Yiddish dialogue)

More Film

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. “Stranger” has been likened to sensual thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content