A common theme in horror books and movies is demonic possession. Demonic possession as in the devil or his spawns and other fallen angels, or as in spirits of dead people, good or bad, seeking revenge against the living, or atonement.
This is an idea that is both comforting and terrifying. If there is life after death, or life in our bodies is just part of what comprises the human experience, then heaven is possible, isn´t it? Heaven is possible, some reprieve from the suffering of life on Earth is possible, all sorts of alternatives are open for us. And hell is possible too, as well as eternal pain and suffering, and anger…
We bring our inability to cope with non-existence to the pages of books, to the silver screen, to the theatres… we debate with our guilt, shame, desire, fear and inability to reach any conclusion. All in the span of a few hundred pages, or a 90 minutes flick.
That´s not a modern phenomena, it has been around like forever, and it has been everywhere, in every culture! Fear of death is one of the few things that unite us as a species! Suicide does unite us too, as paradoxical as it seems, considering my prior statement.
There is small independent movie released in 2016 called Demon (director: Marcin Wrona), which makes a good bridge between the old tales and the XXI century view of demonic possession.
It is based on the Jewish take on possession, on a Dybbuk. The Dybbukim are not demons, but ghosts, or something like that. They are the spirit of people who once lived and who hold a grievance, or who have something left unfinished. This spirit can´t rest and attach itself to a living person, causing misfortune and eventually possessing her/his body, forcing the possessed person to talk and act in ways against their will.
The dybbuk has to be either exorcised or to have its demands fulfilled so it can rest. In the end, it is not that different from the kind of demonic possessions we see in christian themed movies, is it?
A man of Polish descent, son of Polish immigrants to England, goes to Poland to marry a woman, who is the daughter of a wealthy man. We don´t know anything about this Young man, except that his name is Peter, Piotr, Piotrek, nicknamed Python. Zaneta, his fiancée, got an old house with some land from her father, land that belonged to her grandfather. The house is derelict, the adjacent Garden and backyard are unkempt, all in need of fixing.
He is not welcomed by the family´s employee Ronaldo, who is clearly jealous of him and Zaneta, by Zaneta´s father, who treats him as he treats everyone – as a pawn -, and is treated well, albeit a tad too loudly to be sincere, by his brother in law, who later demonstrates all his eagerness to please his father.
While cleaning the yard, Peter stumbles over an unmarked grave, and gives up telling his fiancée, so as not to spoil their big day. He covers that all up again, but is literally haunted and swallowed whole by the ghost.
The next day, the possession intensifies as the wedding ceremony as feast progresses, and the bride´s parents, do all they can to hide the possessed groom from the guests, who party like there is no tomorrow!
A few characters intervene: the doctor, an atheist fighting alcoholism, is the first to identify the Young man´s seizures and fits as a non medical condition, and calls for the priest, who does his best to deny any supernatural intervention, only to be proven wrong, and since he has no Faith, tries to go home after agreeing to annul the marriage.
The bride´s brother denies having ever met the groom, and sides with his father and tries to get rid of the poor Young man. The Young employee, who seizes the opportunity to dispose of the groom. And finally, the village teacher, an old Jewish man, who remembers the days of the war, and recognizes the possession and the dybbuk who is possessing the man, as a Young woman named Hanna, loved by many and who disappeared without a trace.
While looking for the disappeared Peter in the town, the old teacher points to Zaneta where the bakery was, the route Hanna´s sisters took to and for school, he tells her that the butcher´s shop used to be a synagogue. In a way, he is a dybbuk himself, a ghost still attached to places and people who live no more, and holding grievance, or, to put it in a word which has no translation into English, living in saudade, missing, grieving, melancholic, and feeling a pain that it both sweet and piercing, unable to move forward and yet being taken away by time, little by little, heavy and alone with his memories.
o groom was ever more tormented than Piotr. Hanna´s justification for possessing the Young man? He was her promised husband. We don´t know anything about his Family, and we see her deranged state and wild eyes – for we see her sometimes during the feast, in her old wedding dress – so that we can´t tell if she is just crazy or not.
There is something sweet about possessing the body of a loved one. It is a contact more intimate than sex, isn´t it? You seize your beloved like you couldn´t when you were alive. Would a spirit feel ecstatic when possessing a body like that? It makes me wonder…
I shall not spoil the movie, should anyone care to see it.
The director died the same year the movie was released. Tell me about curse!
The link with the past is not just the use of folklore, but the fact that it is inspired on a yiddish play called, very surprisingly, The Dybbuk, by S. Ansky, in the years 1910. It was a popular play of yiddish theatre, adapted to radio, translated into Hebrew, and which even got a movie version in 1937. The original story is obviously Gothic, and the plot is different from the 2016 movie, and very ingenious and deserving of a more faithful movie adaptation, I think.
Marcin Wrona´s film does not rely on gore to grab your attention, and is poetic at times, it does make you think of Poland and its history, memory, and death and is a small jewel that deserves being watched with attention.