Demon 3

“The return of the repressed” is an apt description for the thematic content of countless horror films, but rarely is the idea that the traumatic past cannot be truly forgotten presented as overtly as it is in Marcin Wrona’s ghost story Demon.  English groom Piotr, played by Itay Tyran, marries Polish bride Zaneta, played by Agnieszka Zulewska, on a rural plot of land Zaneta inherited from her grandfather.  During the wedding reception Piotr is possessed by a Jewish “dybbuk,” the soul of someone whose life was cut short, leaving unfinished business.  In this case, the dybbuk is the soul of a young girl named Hana who was promised a husband before her untimely death.  And now she gets one in the form of Piotr!  But many questions go unanswered.  How did Hana die?  Was she murdered?  If so, by whom?  Was Hana killed by the Nazis?  By one of her neighbors?  Did Hana die alone?  Did her sisters die with her?  Was the entire Jewish population of the town murdered?  Carted off to concentration camps?  Were the townsfolk complicit in some crime?  All we learn is that the Jews who once lived in the area no longer exist and that no one wants to recall what happened.  Characters keep refilling a grave which may contain Hana’s skeleton, yet the ground keeps opening back up and disgorging generalized guilt and dread that haunts the shambolic wedding and its uneasy guests.  Now, this all sounds terribly grim, so one would assume that the film’s tone is oppressively dreary.  Not at all.  The portrait of communal denial is painted with Slavic absurdism and stunning cinematography, which keeps it from sinking beneath the weight of its “heavy” themes.  Some might find it frustrating that Demon refuses to define exactly what it is that the town is trying to forget; however, I appreciate its presentation of the town’s past as a vague, shared sense of guilt and dread, for I suspect that that is an accurate representation of the ghosts haunting the Polish present.


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