WATCHING ANOTHER CULTURE’S horror movies can provide a fascinating glimpse into what makes them collectively tick. The Polish Demon offers an intriguing, deceptively comedic spin on the dybbuk legend, while also exploring an unthinkable whopper of a party foul. While the second half’s tendency towards small-scale conversations may occasionally betray the script’s origin on the stage, late director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s talent for whipping up barely contained group hysteria is really something special.
Adapting a play by Piotr Rowicki, the story follows a packed-to-the-rafters wedding at an ancestral estate in the Polish countryside. After the foreign groom (Itay Tiran) discovers a skeleton in the garden, however, things go... astray. Wrona, who committed suicide shortly after his film’s premiere, manages a tricky blend of the supernatural and mournful nationalism, with a mounting creepiness that lasts beyond the final, enigmatic shot. Those in the mood for a straight possession story may come away nonplussed by the moments of full-out comedy, but the horror elements are definitely here and savorable, thanks to an astonishingly physical performance by Tiran, who uses his whole body to successfully convey a place with one too many tenants.
Spooky as it can be, Demon becomes even more interesting when it moves away from overt horror and begins exploring the efforts of the witnesses to explain away the increasingly uncouth behavior of certain members of the wedding party. (Spoiler: Drinking helps.) Ultimately, what lingers most strongly in Wrona’s impressive film is less the actual aberration, and more the examination of how people as a group react to it being in their midst. “We must forget what we didn’t see here,” one deep-in-his-cup character says, which sums it all up rather nicely.