My Big Fat Demonic Wedding
Demon, Polish director Marcin Wrona’s third feature, is an unlikely but entertaining hybrid between a raucous wedding comedy and a brooding horror film. That he managed to pull it off at all is a testament to his talent and unique artistic sensibility. (Sadly, Wrona died of an apparent suicide at age 42 just before the film was set to premiere in Poland last fall.) Those who like their movie genres rigidly defined may be confused by Demon, which isn’t all that scary (or hilarious, for that matter), but the rest of us can appreciate its gorgeously morose ambience; dark, absurdist humor and strong performances.
Based on Piotr Rowicki’s play Adherence, Demon concerns the laid-back Piotr (Itay Tiran), who has traveled from England to the rural Polish hometown of his fiancée Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), for their wedding. The couple have only known each other for a few weeks, so the groom is meeting her parents for the first time. Piotr already has an easy rapport with Zaneta’s bro-like brother and initially gets along well enough with her jocular father (Andrzej Grabowski). When he begins renovations on the family’s rundown country house where the couple will live, Piotr unearths a pile of human bones and is immediately spooked, especially when he later glimpses what appears to be a female spirit wandering around outside. Soon his sunny personality gives way to sudden dark moods, and his body begins to react (via nosebleeds) to something or someone who is slowly taking him over. The overcast sky erupts and torrential rain begins to fall.
“You seem different,” notes his future brother-in-law right before the wedding, a classic understatement. The ceremony is Catholic, as seem to be most of the guests, except for a Jewish professor who knew Zaneta’s now-deceased grandfather. At the reception, which takes place in a shabby-chic barn, the professor toasts the couple at length, quoting Aristotle. The party-happy guests barely listen to him and heckle another guest who attempts to sing a song. Fueled by alcohol, the music and dancing become wild and celebratory, though a tense atonal soundtrack punctuates the festivities, as Piotr – obsessed with the bones he found – swings back and forth between his genial normal self and a haunted vessel. As his actions become violent and alarming (Tiran does a great job with the physical manifestations of his character’s state), a humorously philosophical doctor (Adam Woronowicz) and the somewhat detached priest (Cezary Kosiński) are called upon to help figure out the problem. Though various diagnoses are thrown around (food poisoning, drug-induced psychosis), it is the professor who recognizes in Piotr the machinations of a dybbuk, the classic malevolent spirit of Jewish folklore. Zaneta’s mood goes from delirious happiness to pained acceptance.
Even as Piotr’s condition – and the wedding – get out of hand, Zaneta’s perversely cheerful father and steely mother emphatically choose to deny the obvious, and instead concentrate on the continued entertainment of their guests with ramped-up alcohol service. There are equal amounts humor and horror in the contrast between the drunken revelry of the wedding and Piotr’s increasingly volatile state, which eventually comes to a head, as we find out what’s literally gotten into him.
The wedding was a mass hallucination, declares Piotr’s father-in-law at one point near the end of the movie, and it feels that way for the viewer as well. In this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Demon opens on Friday at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
– Marina Zogbi