Demon (Poland, 2015)
“The whole country is built on corpses.”
Paul and Evan have incredibly broad tastes in horror and a gift for rooting out obscure films, so I pay careful attention to their recommendations. When Evan mentioned that Demon was one of the best films he’d seen this year, I knew I had to check it out. He did warn me that it was exceptionally dark and depressing, but that just sold me on it all the more.
Now, having seen Demon, I can’t believe it’s not better known. This is something truly remarkable.
Demon is currently available on DVD and Bluray in the UK.
Piotr, a foreigner, has moved to a small town in Poland to marry Zaneta, his best friend’s sister. His father-in-law-to-be has gifted the couple a plot of land, complete with rundown farm building. In the run-up to the wedding, Piotr starts some renovation work, accidentally uncovering what appears to be a human skeleton in the grounds. No one else seems worried about this, however, especially when Piotr cannot locate the skeleton again.
The wedding goes ahead as planned, with the reception held in a barn by the farmhouse. The festivities take a turn, however, when Piotr starts behaving oddly and having seizures. A few of the guests — a priest, a doctor and an elderly Jewish academic — try to help him. The academic becomes convinced that Piotr is possessed by a dybbuk — the restless spirit of a Jewish girl called Hana, who disappeared when the academic was a young man. Zaneta’s family are keen to dismiss this, however, and do everything they can to keep the wedding guests distracted and Piotr out of sight.
Is Piotr really possessed? Why are Zaneta’s family so keen to avoid discussing Hana? And what really happened to all the Jewish residents of the village all those years ago?
Much of what is really happening in Demon is conveyed through implication and subtext. While the surface story is entertaining and engaging, this is a film that demands to be decoded as you’re watching it. Even then, I found myself checking interviews and articles afterwards to confirm that I hadn’t missed any important details.
One of the things that made me unsure was the timeline. Because the film was released in 2015, I initially assumed that was when it was set. This confused me, because we had characters who appeared to be in their 60s or 70s referring to events that I could only assume happened during the Holocaust, which they witnessed as teens or young adults. That made me wonder if I’d misunderstood the history they were referring to. My best guess is that the film takes place at least 10 years before it was made.
I was also initially confused by the nationality of Piotr. It’s mentioned that he’s a foreigner, and that his English is better than his Polish, but I struggled to pin down where he was meant to be from. The actor playing him, Itay Tiran, is Israeli and his seems to use his natural accent when speaking English. I eventually realised from context that Piotr is meant to be English, from a family of Polish émigrés. That probably comes across a lot better to Polish viewers than British ones, however.
Demon is simply astonishing. On the surface, it’s a straightforward tale of a rural wedding interrupted by a ghost. As a piece of political and historical allegory, however, it becomes something far more frightening. This is a film about ensuring past atrocities remain forgotten and the bodies stay buried. The casual, good-natured willingness of the wedding guests to suppress the horrors of their history is chilling, leading to an ending that is both understated and emotionally devastating.
Largely setting Demon during a wedding reception really brings home this uncomfortable blend of superficial jollity and barely contained darkness. Initially, the high spirits of the occasion make it as easy for the audience to dismiss the warning signs as the guests do, until the implications become impossible to ignore.
Apparently, Demon is adapted from a play. While the film is not overly stagey, I can certainly see how its dialogue-centric storytelling and limited use of locations owe everything to these roots. A film like this rests heavily on the quality of its actors, and the performances here are superb. Andrzej Grabowski’s turn as the monstrously genial father of the bride is the standout. His final speech to the guests is deliberately absurd, but Grabowski never lets us lose sight of the real horror underpinning his words.
My one caveat in recommending Demon is that it’s going to disappoint viewers looking for something more conventional. While I absolutely consider Demon to be a horror film, there aren’t really any scares — just a sad, terrible situation. It’s not a dull or ponderous film, or even a slowly paced one, but it is not at all suited to casual viewing. But if you want to watch something a little more challenging this Halloween, Demon deserves your attention.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!