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A priest, a doctor and a schoolteacher walk into a Polish wedding in Demon, a possession tale that isn’t so focused on its dread-soaked mood it can’t make room for the comic possibilities arising when a ghost crashes a nuptial celebration. The picture has been haunted, itself: The week of its festival debut, director/co-writer Marcin Wrona was discovered in his hotel room, an apparent suicide. Nevertheless, it has gone on to be crowned Best Horror Feature at Austin’s Fantastic Fest and, this month, to have North American rights acquired by The Orchard. Tragic backstory will likely stoke some interest in the Polish/Israeli co-production.
Amid some deliberately large performances, Itay Tiran begins in closely-held mode as Piotr, who has come to the village of his fiancee Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) to take possession of a decaying old family home before the two are married there. But while puttering around the property, the outsider uncovers something locals may secretly know is there: A skeleton buried where the new swimming pool is supposed to go.
Piotr does his best to ignore this discovery, but it has discovered him as well: Midway into an extremely drunken wedding celebration (lord, the crates of vodka consumed!), he begins to see a very sad ghost in a wedding dress. He even accidentally toasts her by name, to the chagrin of the other woman in the room wearing a wedding dress.
Things degrade quickly, with the groom suffering “epileptic” fits that briefly halt the party. Enter Andrzej Grabowski, upstaging even his eccentric co-stars as Zaneta’s father, who was suspicious of the foreigner from the start and is now more concerned with keeping the festivities moving than in figuring out what is wrong with his new son-in-law. Go fetch more vodka, he insists — all of it — and get this boy out of sight.
In a back room somewhere, it becomes clear that the ghost bride has come for the man who found her. “He is my lover — the man I was promised,” she says from beyond the grave, and an attempt at exorcism begins. Cinematographer Pawel Fils supplies some very attractive shadows as the film rides between occult dangers and the practicalities of a party that must go on despite the disappearance of the couple being celebrated. Things head eventually in an abstract direction that may have played better onstage than it does here (“we must forget what we didn’t see here,” guests are eventually instructed), but a compelling atmosphere lingers.
Production company: Magnet Man Film
Cast: Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt, Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Agnieszka Zulewska
Director-Producer: Marcin Wrona
Screenwriters: Marcin Wrona, Pawel Maslona
Executive producer: Olga Szymanska
Director of photography: Pawel Fils
Production designer: Anna Wunderlich
Costume designer: Aleksandra Staszko
Editor: Piotr Kmiecik
Music: Krzysztof Penderecki, Marcin Macuk
Casting director: Malgorzata Adamska
No rating, 89 minutes
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