Fantastic Fest 2015: ‘Demon’ has a significant subtext

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The groom in "Demon" startles the wedding party.
The groom in "Demon" startles the wedding party.

The groom in “Demon” startles the wedding party.

“Demon,” which screened late Thursday afternoon on the first day of Fantastic Fest, is far more sophisticated than you expect.

On the surface, it’s a well-executed version of the Jewish legend of the dybbuk — or a ghost that takes possession of the body of a living person. Piotr Domalewski stars as a London architect who comes to Poland to marry a young woman, only to discover the remains of a body in the yard where the wedding is to take place. (It’s also supposed to be the new home for the couple).

It’s never explicitly spelled out, but it’s clear that the remains are those of a young woman who died long ago, named Hana. And it’s also clear that she’s taking possession of the bridegroom’s body.

The architect starts having visions about the dead woman, but he tries to hide them at first, hoping to carry through with the wedding. But when he starts having fits during the wedding reception, the family tries to pretend that he’s just having an epileptic seizure. As the night goes on, however, it’s obvious that Hana has taken over his body.

Everyone in the bride’s family is appalled, of course, but the patriarch decides that if they ply everyone with enough vodka, no one will remember what’s going on. So everybody gets very, very drunk. And the movie becomes darker and darker.

While “Demon” doesn’t delve into the past, various clues reveal that Hana was Jewish, and that she lived on the land where the wedding is being held before being killed and buried in the yard. Who killed her? Possibly the bride’s family, since they didn’t build the home that they now own. And the death would have taken place around the time of the Holocaust. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that “Demon” is a wry commentary on Poland’s troubled ethnic past.

The movie is a Polish/Israeli production.

Most people have probably heard that the director, Marcin Wrona, recently died, shortly after “Demon” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. His talents are on full display here, and his death makes the movie even more poignant. This guy was good. The cause of death has not been released, but initial reports indicate it was a suicide by hanging.

“Demon” screens again at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday. I highly recommend it.

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