(Marcin Wrona, Poland, 2015)

BY LAURA KERN | October 31, 2021

With its theatrical origins—Piotr Rowicki’s play AdherenceDemon might be stagey in its limited setting, but there’s so much festering within that you’re hardly aware that most of the action takes place during the course of one wedding. The husband-to-be, Piotr (Itay Tiran), returns home to Poland from the UK to marry Zaneta (Agnieszka Żulewska), a woman he’s only met virtually, and on the ferry he witnesses an unsettling incident that appropriately sets the film’s ominous tone. The first night alone at the creepy property he’s about to marry into, Piotr glimpses a ghostly white figure and uncovers some literal skeletons in its closet (or, rather, its backyard). Apparently he has made the acquaintance of Hana, a beautiful Jewish townswoman all the men once adored, until she vanished without a trace a few decades earlier.

Though Piotr wakes up on his wedding day not quite himself, the ceremony goes off without a hitch. But the reception, where things get increasingly strange—while always remaining darkly funny—makes the highly dysfunctional wedding proceedings in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia look almost normal. Piotr has convulsions, speaks in Yiddish, and glimpses Hana again. He is clearly possessed, and we now understand we’re watching a classic dybbuk story transported to the present day.

As the unsuspecting vessel, Israeli actor Tiran gives a fully invested and wholly believable performance. And Żulewska is a perfect match as the fiercely committed bride, who goes from glowing to muddy and disheveled during the course of the evening. But as rich as the film feels, there’s likely much that’ll be lost on non-Polish audiences, involving the country’s dark history and the deeply ingrained guilt, and the great importance of weddings. Many of Piotr and Zaneta’s invited guests appear totally oblivious to the surrounding drama; as it heightens, they just drink more and dance more, almost like they are all possessed in another way—not by any sort of demon, but by a historical trauma no less horrific or suppressed: the Holocaust.

Demon itself is something of a cursed film, in that its highly promising director, Marcin Wrona—whose previous work, the intense drama The Christening, is equally gripping—killed himself at age 42 while it was just beginning its lengthy festival run. He never got to see his third feature embraced with open arms. And while we’ll never know what possessed him to take his own life, the story behind the film’s possession is more transparent. Sometimes scarier than any demon or monster is the human compulsion to repress and deny history, which remains unresolved as it’s passed down from one generation to the next. 🩸


is a writer, editor and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

TWITTER: @killerkern

How to see Demon

Demon is also available on DVD, but not Blu-ray.
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