Demon (2015): Finding Beauty Within Fear

All the bridges that you burn come back one day to haunt you, sings Tracy Chapman, in a verse that explains in the simplest, shortest way possible, the premise of the Polish horror movie Demon (2015), a stunning work so unfortunately marked by the suicide of its young director, Marcin Wrona. The mainstream audiences, used to seeing Hollywood horror films packed with cheap tricks and predictable jump scares, may end up pretty disappointed after watching Demon, debating if it fits the genre at all. But this movie does exactly what a horror movie is supposed to, and more. For what is more terrifying than awaking the ghosts from the past, who were buried deep within the black soil, ignored and forgotten, since the mention of their names brings upon a feeling of collective shame.

Piotr (Itay Tiran) is a young Polish emigrant, returning to his home country to marry his love, Žaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). Upon his arrival on Žaneta’s late grandfather’s rural estate, divided by a river, he expresses his dissatisfaction with the lack of a bridge and promises his father-in-law (Andrzej Grabowski) he will build a new one after the wedding. But his presence is anything but welcome on that land, which was evident from the beginning, when he was greeted by a demonical scream of a mad woman in the river. With both of bride’s parents not being happy about the marriage and essentially not giving the lovers their blessing, the constant dreadful weather was also a sure sign for Piotr to get the hell out of there. After digging out a pile of human bones in the backyard, his body becomes a host to an old Jewish demonic spirit, dybbuk, in a form of a deceased young bride Hana.

demon_1

I have to stress out that Demon is a movie which needs more than just one viewing. It most certainly is not your average horror flick. The point that it wishes to get across is built up in such an intelligent and intriguing way, and its horrific dimension lies in exposing the dirt in one nation’s history and its consequences in the present time. The old professor (Wlodzimierz Press), mocked and ignored by everyone, is the only voice of reason here. He points out that once there was a synagogue in the town, where people of all religions used to gather, but now it’s a butcher’s shop, and he believes that the rain falling down on an unblessed wedding is a symbol of tears of despair, tears that were more common on that land than tears of joy. Piotr’s unwanted “outsider” presence has magnified the fact that the divide and bigotry still exists, so awaking the ghosts of the past – spirits that don’t want to be disturbed, but also not to be forgotten.

Historical and social significance aside, it’s the way Wrona constructed the film and the mood within it that amazes me. The movie, from beginning to its very end, is marked by witty yet dark, cringe worthy humour, which blindfolds the protagonists from what’s really going on. Demon will make you laugh, but leaving you with that bitter aftertaste in your mouth at the same time. The director opposes the happiness and festiveness of a wedding with the sadness of not one but two funerals happening at the same time. What stands out the most is the complete normalisation of the supernatural and the way characters are confronting the occurring problem. The groom is possessed by a female spirit – that’s actually the official doctor’s diagnose. And while Piotr is cramping up and distorting his body in a contortionist manner, screaming and vomiting, the party has no intention to end. People are wobbling around drunk, singing karaoke, having sex in front of everyone (the usual wedding stuff), acting as if demonic possessions happen every day. The way the old professor is acceptant of the appearance of Hana in Piotr’s body is simply brilliant. The same goes for the drunken doctor (Adam Woronowicz), who’s only concern is why Hana chose Piotr, when she could have taken his body.

But the most mesmerising thing about this movie has to be Itay Tiran’s superb performance. He embodies in such a phenomenal way the awkwardness Piotr has to face, and the progress of his possession. But where he really shines is in his embodiment of the female spirit. His performance is so amazingly convincing: he manages to capture the innocence, grief, pain and fright of a dead young girl, making the supernatural look so natural and effortless. Long has it been since I last saw such immaculate acting.

Giving us also the drunkest search party ever to be seen on the silver screen, Marcin Wrona, for his third and final work, managed to create a strikingly beautiful, atmospheric horror movie, with a vibe which will make the hair on the back of your neck stand, and the uncertain, open end will leave viewers with so many questions, thereby haunting them long, long after the movie ends.

Advertisements

The Singing Corpse – A New Hope

 

So 2016 is finally over, and it has taught us a few valuable lessons. Marked by numerous deaths of iconic pop cultural figures, it made us think about the time we’re living in, and the disturbing current lack of true talent in the media spotlight. The songs on the radio all sound completely the same, unsincere, with pop stars being just a herd of sheep obeying the laws of the market, and there is not a single innovative trend setting individual on sight. It was also quite a terrible year for the movies. We’ve watched so many flicks, just to be leaving the cinema totally disappointed. Forgettable and unimaginative are two key words to describe 2016 in movies.

I find the core problem to be in the way filmmakers these days see the film: let’s just make as many movies as we can, starring all the exact same faces as in the other well selling movies, stack as much CGI as you can in there, and then we’ll make a trailer with a bunch of kapow-boom-bang sound effects, so the crowd will get all excited and they will pay to see our movies. Yeah, sounds like a great plan, so, what about the plot? Fuck the plot, man, people don’t want to see anything new, just keep them in their comfort zone. Oh yeah, and also, let’s make aliens look like octopuses. Remarkable!

The lack of idea at this point is alarming. Movies are not only a medium to make money on; they are first of all and most importantly – a form of art. And not just any kind of art; it’s by far the broadest one. It has the ability to combine the visuals, sounds and all sorts of effects nowadays to make a story so vividly come to life before our very eyes. And movie makers have been taking those powerful tools in vain.

This is where Swiss Army Man (2016) comes in. Created by The Daniels, a couple of young directors mostly known for their work in music videos, it is the single most weirdest movie of the past year, and you cannot deny that, whether you loved it or hated it. I believe the movie benefits so much exactly from the directors’ music video background, because they know how to tell an upbeat, out-of-this-world story, within just 4 minutes of time. When discussing this movie, viewers focus too much on the farts and the boners, so foolishly letting themselves be blinded and not seeing the moral of the story that had just been unveiled so wonderfully before their eyes. The plot is essentially just your everyday misfit anti-hero story: an individual alienated by/from the society, painfully living out his tragedy, but suddenly finding a way to fight through it and getting back on their feet, driven by no other than the impulse of love and the need to actualize it. But it is the way the story was told that is so amazing and gives us just that glimpse of hope that maybe, just maybe, there is a new generation of film directors that will overtake the industry with their fresh and imaginative view of the cinema and the use of all its tools.cc833329

Marked with what can be described as pure adolescent humour, Swiss Army Man is a sugar-coated psychological musical drama about loneliness and, debatably, of coping with a serious mental illness. And the plot is unveiling in such a beautiful, borderline fantastical way. As suicidal Hank sees his life passing before his eyes in the form of a talking dead body, which awakes a new life force within him and giving him all the tools to escape his deserted, isolated island, viewers can’t help but wonder, what is real here and what is not, and just what the hell am I watching?! And those questions all appear because we have gotten so used to watching the same stories, the same damn recycled movies all the time. And then a fart, a boner and a singing corpse startle us! Why would anyone make such a movie?

Well, why the bloody hell not? The public has to loosen up, stop being so posh and uptight, it has to find and wake their inner child up, you know the one that they proclaimed dead and gone so long ago. And just have fun. Not everything has to make sense in movies, for it is a form of art, an expression, an idea. It’s fantasy, and so it should be nothing less than fantastic. Not everything has to be explained, reasoned, justified, and not all movies have to have a happy end.

If a movie makes you angry, makes you sad or makes you think,makes you want to discuss it, well then it’s a movie worth watching. Get used to being surprised and being uncomfortable in front of the silver screen! And so here the Daniels have given a very important lessons to the public and the film industry. Let’s just hope it will resonate among at least some of them, and the future of the movies will be looking bright.