Chattanooga Film Festival
Some films have all the right elements, but when they’re combined, the finished product is less impressive than the ingredients that went into it. Demon from director Marcin Wrona has a dark, foreboding atmosphere, uniformly excellent performances and an intriguing story. But after its first half, it staggers and lurches through the suspense that it has worked so hard to create. Each time the narrative gains momentum, the film cuts to minor characters and extraneous details, deflating the tension that’s been building in the audience.
Piotr and Zaneta are getting married. The groom has purchased a home for the happy couple. While he is using a backhoe to improve the property, Piotr uncovers a skeleton on the grounds, a skeleton that he is convinced is human. Rather than draw attention to this eerie event and ruin his wedding day, Piotr buries the skeleton and tries to ignore his concerns about human remains on his property. As the wedding festivities approach, Piotr begins to change. His nose bleeds for no reason. He sees visions of another bride from a different time wandering through the reception.
As the night wears on, it becomes clear to many of partygoers that Piotr has been possessed by a dybuk, a malicious spirit from Jewish folklore. The family pretends Piotr is suffering from food poisoning, and they search frantically for a solution. And this is where the wheels begin to fall off the film. Many horror films suffer from third act overkill, throwing everything but the cinematic kitchen sink at the audience in the hope that the frenzy of activity will provide a thrilling ending to the film. By contrast, Demon cuts from the fear of Piotr’s plight to guests singing with the band and the efforts of family members to save face and keep the party going. Why do you leave your protagonist in his hour of need to show people chatting around a punch bowl? It’s nothing short of a head-scratcher.
It’s fine that Demon doesn’t try to pay-off its premise with the typical “exorcist saves the day” finale. The problem is that Demon doesn’t pay-off its premise at all. The ending is a total cop-out that fails to honor the audience’s emotional investment. Demon doesn’t reach a definitive conclusion. It just grinds to a halt. It’s not an interesting new take on an old horror trope. It’s simply an incomplete film.
If you’re intrigued by the mythology of the dybuk, you should give your time to The Possession (2012) instead. The film stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Walking Dead) and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) as a couple who begin to suspect that their young daughter is being manipulated by supernatural forces. The Possession features a rock star performance by Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu as the best big screen exorcist since Max von Sydow. Although it hits all the beats you would expect from a supernatural thriller, The Possession does it so well that old ideas feel new again.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Demon. Director Marcin Wrona has talent. His future projects will certainly be worth a look. Let’s just hope that the next time he produces more than half of a good film.
[Note: Since this review was posted, I’ve learned that Marcin Wrona tragically took his own life shortly after the world premiere of this film. I’m leaving my original review unaltered because it expresses my true feelings about Wrona’s talent and his work.]
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.