The rural chambers of a dilapidated, family-owned house. Blanched by rain and pockmarked by mold and secrets. Isolation begets terror. History sires misery. And the viewer bemoans the banal use of sound and wind. In a hazy Polish town, undercurrents of sadness, disappearances, and hushed whispers reach out like disembodied hands to drag Piotr (Itay Tiran), an unassuming Pole, into the rich depths of psychological – or spiritual – declension.
The late-Marcin Wrona directed “Demon” with layered atmosphere and, more often than not, daring precision. But the story itself, from theatrical weather conditions to eye-lolling possessions, approaches the topic of supernatural intervention with the cavalier energy of a store clerk chewing a wad of gum. “Demon” makes the best of spatial awareness – you can feel the breadth of space around the property, while also succumbing to the suffocating corridors of the interior shots – but there are too many creative hiccups to maintain this taut feeling of suspense.
In Wrona’s film, a promising wedding is derailed by the monomaniac plans of a self-absorbed demon. This particular dybbuk is an insatiable creature that crawls into the husk of our parttime protagonist, Piotr, on the most important day of his life. What follows is a bleak pictograph of history and unease. Rain pounds the ground, tenderizes already pliable rooftops, and wallops the crowd with the not-so-subtle use of weather as motif. Not to be outdone by other films of the same genre, “Demon” makes sure to include some obligatory Krzysztof Penderecki for good measure. There are also mysterious child-like laughs reverberating in empty rooms (isn’t there a term limitation on that scare?) if you were wondering if that box was going to be ticked.
The wedding itself is drenched with sticky champagne, errant glassware, and undone ties. Food is stuffed into the maws of guests, and the parents of the bride try their best to keep the charade of happiness going as their soon-to-be son-in-law deals with a demonic possession. The usual. The use of light and shadow in Wrona’s film is sometimes expertly used (think Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents”), but often times goes unnoticed because of the film’s heavy-handed exposition on youth vs history. All the meanwhile, rain continues to pour, and every character stands, soaked, as if they were Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption”. This cannot be the zenith of existential horror.
“Demon”, for all of its murky, hands-in-the-mud approach, simply feels like the wedding scene of “The Deer Hunter” as written by an anonymous party on creepypasta. The film, opening Oct. 30 at Ken Cinema, is too self-aware of its experiential bloodletting and unconventionally ordinary stylistic flourishes to really work in its favor.