RETRO REVIEW: DEMON Clings to the Screen, and Then to Your Soul

Posted on: Sep 15th, 2016 By:

Demon_poster_finalDEMON (2015); Dir. Marcin Wrona: Starring Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, Andrzej Grabowski; Opens Friday, September 16 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Brooke Sonenreich
Contributing Writer

Before arriving to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Marcin Wrona’s DEMON had its Atlanta premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Intrigued by Jewish mysticism, body horror and my own Polish-Jewish roots, I went into this movie with a fresh curiosity. DEMON is set in contemporary Poland, but within a small village that is still recuperating from Nazi occupation. Before attending to the characters, Wrona posits the spectator in the abandoned parts of this Polish town. Before any indication of a character being possessed, Wrona privies us to the haunting of the location with opening images of rundown, abandoned ghettos.

DEMON is a dybbuk story, and the most complex and intriguing one I have ever followed. In Jewish mysticism, if a Jewish body has not been properly buried it remains in purgatory. However, the soul can latch onto a living soul in order to carry out its business. Quite literally, the word dybbuk means to cling.

For Piotr (Israeli Jewish actor Itay Tiran) the dybbuk attaches to his soul the night before he marries Zaneta, a Polish woman whose family is still a group of strangers to Piotr. As the possession takes over his ability to speak and his overall motor skills, questions about the village and its Jewish past bubble to the surface. However, the cling of the dybbuk only strengthens and the dybbuk’s Jewishness begins seeping out of Piotr through shared memories, language, and voice.

(Left to Right) - Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

(Left to Right) – Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

My first viewing of DEMON was followed by the realization that it would be in a cycle of festivals before being distributed for at least another year. But I left the theater feeling haunted myself and made it to the other screenings in hopes of retaining as much of this film as possible before it was passed to the next festival. The film’s arrival at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema should not go unnoticed. It is a film that resonates months after the first viewing and, much like how the dybbuk’s hold on the spirit only strengthens, DEMON has the ability to cling to its beholder.

On the day of the film’s screening in Poland, Wrona committed suicide, and even if the film is watched in a loop, there is an unanswerable question that continues to arise: Is Piotr the only haunted subject of DEMON?

Brooke Sonenreich is a film instructor and theorist. She likes sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and staring at a bright wall for an extended period of time, and she has somehow made that into a job.

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RETRO REVIEW: HIGH-RISE Aims High with Ballard Adaptation, Falls Low …Maybe

Posted on: May 12th, 2016 By:

high-rise-poster-ben-wheatleyHIGH-RISE (2015); Dir. Ben Wheatley; Starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss; Opens Friday, May 13 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When the credits rolled and the lights came up on HIGH-RISE, I wasn’t sure what to think. The audience around me murmured and shifted. The film didn’t seem to go over well on them. As I left the theater, one guy asked someone (the crowd?) repeatedly “Did you like that film? Did you like that film?” In the parking lot, I overheard two women trying to make sense out of it.

So, yeah, I think I liked it.

HIGH-RISE is an intentional provocation, an agitprop object. This thing has weight, texture, depth. A century ago, people tried to burn the screen after movies like this, movies that acted as angry screeds about the increasing stratification of the classes. HIGH-RISE acts as a period piece, but couldn’t be more perfectly suited to our times. Wow, this film is mad, and it makes a solid case that we all should be madder.

Based on the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel that was long considered unfilmable, HIGH-RISE plays out like an uppercrust LORD OF THE FLIES, with an insulating luxury apartment building standing in for the far-flung desert island. Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, a desirable young doctor whose search for solitude prompts him to move to the 25th floor of the ultra-modern building that offers all the amenities of the outside world, from swimming pools to supermarkets. At first, Laing’s new environment seems like a utopian paradise full of endless parties. People from all floors mix and mingle, despite the economic divide. You see, the lower floors are for the families and the poor, and it’s these people hit the hardest when the power begins to short out. It happens a little at a time, and then all at once. The building’s architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons), offers no good explanation, and as the resources begin to dwindle, the utopia crumbles as the residents turn on one another.

2016_11_high_riseYou may be asking why the residents don’t just leave the building as it stops sustaining them? This is where we approach the novel’s unfilmable reputation. Those looking for a clean narrative like LORD OF THE FLIES or even SNOWPIERCER might find themselves thrown by HIGH-RISE’s allegorical approach. The residents do leave. They go to work. Occasionally. But when the day is over, they race back to the disintegrating nightmare of their vertical world. Dogs become food. Roving bands of the well-to-do raid their neighbors for cocktail onions so that the party can continue. Laing himself becomes intent on simply finding the perfect paint color for his apartment while the bodies pile up in the pool. The allegory is that capitalism and human nature itself is the root of the evil, and it never occurs to the citizens of the block that there might be another way.

hiddleston-xlarge_trans++3hVEJul2WVJXEjB3JWusSHndML-fnbpvlkWcWvKdhwUDirector Ben Wheatley has developed a reputation for off-center oddities, including 2013’s A FIELD IN ENGLAND, in which a group of men crossing a field becomes a trippy psychedelic mash. Wheatley (and his wife/writer Amy Jump) proves to be a great fit for this material, choosing to emphasize mood and meaning over the particulars of plot, which could never have come together satisfactorily without sacrificing some of the story’s deep symbolism. In this building, it’s not so easy that the rich prey on the poor, but that when the chips are down, they all prefer to eat each other. The only sane way to navigate this new world is to paint yourself into your own carved-out corner and hope to god it doesn’t come crashing through your door.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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