Monday, July 22, 2013

POSSESSION


Possession
Directed by: Andrej Zulawski
France/West Germany, 1981
Drama/Horror, 127min
Distributed by: Second Sight Films


There’s really only two ways to watch Andrej Zulawski’s breathtaking and mind expanding, monster metaphor movie, Possession – either you love it or you hate it. This is possibly THE film that polarizes its audience and so it should, with it’s sluggish pacing, manic acting and gob smacking horror twist. Andrey Zulawski’s Possession is a masterpiece of art-house drama molten together with gooey tentacle monster in horrific body horror!
Alienation is a key to Possession and Zulawski puts this all up front as the film opens with a harsh scene of rejection. Mark [Sam Neill] returns home from a journey abroad only to be met on the street by his wife Anna [Isabelle Adjani] who proceeds to tell him that she thinks their relationship is over. This is followed by scenes of the couple discussing the fact that they don’t really have any sexual feelings for each other any more, which leads to the reveal that Anna has been having an affair with another man… or at least that’s what we think so far.

Mark becomes obsessive in his determination to keep the family assembled (consisting of him, Anna and their young son Bob [Michael Hogben]) and going through the motions, he shouts at her, fights her, throws himself at her feet, submits to her, all without result. Mark descents into a deep dark personal space as he fights for what he believes is true happiness, fighting for a memory of something that no longer is.

Looking at Possession from a storytelling point of view, it’s a rather interesting film when it comes to the lead characters – keep in mind that this is early eighties, and the nihilism of today’s genre films was decades away – so it’s something of a fascination that Zulawski keeps his lead characters somewhat inaccessible to us. Neither Anna, Mark or Heinrich [Heinz Bennet] are sympathetic characters, so I don’t really root for any of them, they are all quite unlikeable, egotistical people completely coming apart at the seams, all by their own hands.
The only person that really is a likeable and empathetic character is schoolteacher Helen [Adjani in a double role] who plays an important part in Mark’s catharsis! In her own way a metaphor for innocence and the corruption of same innocence... Oh, and watching Possession again after quite some time, I also feel that there’s a pretty cool and subtle message in there concerning the two private investigators [Shaun Lawton and Carl Duering] and their relationship!  

Secrets. Yes secrets, dirty secrets. Zulawski lures the audience down a deceptive route as Mark learns of Anna’s dirty little affair on the side with Heinrich. But he certainly doesn’t stop there, but Anna has yet another affair outside of her affair with Heinrich… the rush of insight when one realizes what has been going on is powerful, and both men become completely obsessive. Only one of them can have Anna, and nobody want’s to let go of her, in a way it’s Anna who has who has possessed the men and they will stop at nothing to have her. Even the before mentioned detectives have their “secret”. Anna’s creature, the shape shifting homunculus that she hides in that damp murky Berlin apartment is her dark secret, and in some ways it also becomes Mark’s when he learns of it.

An important part of Possession is the constant disorientation. Multi award winning cinematographer Bruno Nuytten’s work here is fantastic, but the way the scenes are edited together, one rarely comes to insight in how rooms or locations are connected, this despite several splendid steady cam shots and flowing long in and out of location moves. This adds to the mental confusion of the piece. It’s also really important to watch how the shots are composed, as the way Adjani and Neill move and place themselves in the rather long and demanding shots are like watching strictly choreographed dances. The way the camera lingers and keeps us at distance is also part of the earlier mentioned alienation. Even the audience is held at arms length from everything.

Emotionally the film grinds down it’s audience and becomes a surrealistic nightmare perfected. There are no release valves and tension simply builds, on both the character levels and on the monster levels before reaching it’s devastating climax. Neill gives a great performance as the devastated Mark but Adjani showcases some outstanding talent as she with perfection slips between the many emotions and states of mind that Anna displays.
The monster. We can’t really talk about Possession without talking about the monster, metaphorical or not. Pocketed between two academy awards for his on Alien 1979 and E.T. 1982, Carlo Rambaldi's creature of Possession is a repulsive and magnificent one, kept off screen as long as possible and when it’s revealed we never really get a clear idea of how it comes together… it’s all slime, ooze and tentacles as the creature feasts off the blood and flesh of the poor victims Anna brings to their shared secret lair, and despite being a mix of Lovecraftian elder and total nightmare beast it doesn’t stop Anna from being intimate with the slimy monster. It’s a fantastic monster and is used in the perfect amount of screen time, any more and we would have been able to start looking for the wires, rods and any other revealing pieces of trickery. Once that monster is seen the fact that Anna is pregnant with it’s child evokes some haunting mental images, but nothing as surreal and disturbing as what Zulawski, Rambaldi and Adjani conjure up in the subway miscarriage scene in the second half of Possession. This is the concentrate of nightmares indeed!

Possession works in two ways, one as a metaphor for the disintegration of the Mark/Anna relationship, which is presented in a gut-wrenching fashion as the couple slowly, slowly, disintegrate and come apart at the seams. Emotional recognition is vital to understanding movies that want to tell situations we will never end up in (such as being traded for a gory monster that slowly takes your shape) so recognizing the suffering and torment that the characters are experiencing are important for the audience as this is what makes us know what they are feeling, experiencing and going through. The most of us have at least one really bad break up in our luggage and this is what Zulawski uses… at least to lure us into the strange freaky place he takes us.

But the movie also, as Andrej Zulawski points out on the commentary track, works as a metaphor for the “monsters” people became during the cold war and the terror of the Stasi. It’s possible to see this metaphor in the shape of Helen who “accidentally” is drawn into the world/relationship of Mark and Anna, and is the real and only true innocent victim of the piece. As mentioned earlier, neither Mark nor Anna are all that likeable as characters, Helen is the only one who we can empathize with, hence her in all her kindness and innocence becomes the victim. Just like friends and family turning on each other in Cold War Eastern Germany.
Loaded with a full batch of possessive extras such as TWO audio commentary tracks (one with Zulawski the other with co-writer Frederic Tuten); Interview with ZulawskiA DIVIDED CITY which sees Zulawski’s frequent composer Andrzej Korzynski talk about the soundtrack to Possessed, and if you like his work, you should pick up some of their collaborations released by Finders Keepers Records on LP and CD. REPOSSESSED; an expose on how the film was received in the UK during the Video Nasties era and how the US censors recut the film, OUR FRIEND IN THE WEST sees producer Christian Ferry is interviewed, and even the artist responsible for the amazing poster for the film is discussed in the featurette BASHATHE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL is a feature length making of Possession documentary that gives even more insight into this fantastic film…

The Second Sight release of Andrej Zulawski’s nightmarish drama, Possession, is without a doubt one of the top five must have Blurays of 2013. Available from 29th July 2013.

Friday, July 19, 2013

JONAS

JONAS
Directed by: Adam Rehmeier
USA, 2013

I’ve been looking forward to this film, or should I perhaps call it, this experience, since early 2012 when Adam Rehmeier told me during our The Bunny Game interview that he was more or less done with Jonas – his next feature. A movie he told me was going to be completely different than The Bunny Game, something I’m still trying to decide if it is or not!
 
Made as a companion piece to The Bunny Game and shot with the exact same method as said movie – as in fully improvised, non-scripted and with a majority of cast non-professional actors - Jonas bookends a forever-incomplete trilogy. We will never be told what happened between The Bunny Game and Jonas, therefor our own sinister and profound darkness will fill in the blanks between what happened between the first time we saw Jonas [Gregg Gilmore] in the final shot of The Bunny Game and the opening shots of Jonas.

Six Verses present the character of Jonas, a man we are introduced to as he washes up on the beach after a frenetic and rapid montage of shots at the start of the piece. Possibly the rapid edits and almost black and white photography of the opening (although it is in color) are all that remain of the violent and visual style that was presented in The Bunny Game. From here on there will be no rapid bursts of cutaways and non-linear juxtaposition, but rather slow lingering shots of people talking, listening, feeling and being.

Early on Adam Rehmeier pointed out that Jonas would be the complete antithesis of The Bunny Game. A movie designed to be a palette-cleanser to be watched back to back with The Bunny Game with the intention of leveling the viewer out and bring hem back to normal after the intensity of The Bunny Game.
First off, yes, Jonas is possibly something of an opposite to The Bunny Game. Shot in color, it deals with religion, life and hope, where The Bunny Game dealt with quite the opposite. You never saw anyone eating a taco or enjoying the warmth of the sun on his or her face in The Bunny Game.

Grabbing the audiences attention and keeping them intrigued Jonas opens posing the question of who is this man and what has he done to end up here – there’s the imaginary gap between for you to fill in with whatever depravity you want – and this becomes a natural hook as I really want to know what’s going on, why did this happen and what’s this mission he’s on?

The goal of the story is much clearer with Jonas, from early on we are told about the illumination that Sunday dawn will bring, or at least as Jonas will believe will be presented. In The Bunny Game we never really know where it’s going to go (unless you notice those morgue slab frame edits early on) but we have an idea of how it will end. Jonas tells us his vision, his goal, his mission, his moment from the start. The Beach, Sunday Dawn, all roads lead there.

Where The Bunny Game was all about creating tension, Jonas is all about building expectation. The tension that drove The Bunny Game forth is here replaced here by expectation. I couldn’t take my eyes off The Bunny Game as I wanted to see just how tight Rehmeier could twist the tension, and I can’t take my eyes off Jonas as the expectations of what it will bring is tweaked with the same fingertip tuning tools that where used on The Bunny Game!

Rehmeier does this with a few, in all their simplicity, genius moves such as a fast cutaway to a knife on a table top during one encounter Jonas has, or like the first time Jonas meet’s resistance and is rejected by one of people he visits and the magnificent performance Gilmore gives as his world more or less comes colliding down around him. Rejection is a bitch, and as the film goes Jonas copes with it much better, but this initial one is strange to watch as it also makes me kind of empathetic towards Jonas! Here’ a man who appears to have been forgiven by some higher power, he has a mission in life, a goal to follow, he’s even set a date for the big day and he’s on his way… which intriguingly makes it engaging when he’s faced with rejection. It’s the eons old curiosity that makes me want to see where this will go, will Jonas succeed and to find that closure I need Jonas to stay clear of obstacles. But even Jonas learns from this encounter and continues to prey on the weak, which again makes him something of a calculation predator… or delusional… or simply a servant of God.

I find that there’s a constant threat present in the film, but I’m never really sure where or to whom the threat is posed – a very confusing and disorienting state of mind indeed. The tricks mentioned above tend to lean towards a threat to the people (some of them) that Jonas encounters, and some towards Jonas, which makes the positioning of antagonist/protagonist a curious one. It’s possible that insight into backstory and the knowledge that Jonas is a man of dubious value – after all this is the guy who picks up where Hog [Jeff F. Renfro] left off in The Bunny Game. I’ve always read The Bunny Game with the unseen death of Bunny [Rodleen Getsic] as I saw images of her on a morgue slab in some fast bursts of images early on in The Bunny Game. So Jonas most likely has some real heavy shit in in baggage. Hence the movie – as said earlier, it’s supposed to be watched back to back with The Bunny Game – starting with those really violent bursts of Gilmore with knife, screaming and lurking in the shadows shots before he’s washed ashore in the opening of Jonas. This gives us a chance to acknowledge his violent and dark backstory and interpret the metaphorical washing up on the shore (as in cleansing) – and changing of color codes, Jonas in The Bunny Game wore white, Jonas in Jonas wears black, as Jonas been giving a second chance. With this second chance comes the benefit of the doubt. Will he stay on his path to righteousness or is there a possibility that he will stray from it and fall back into former traits? Read that passage again with the image of the knife on the table in your head and the knowledge of Jonas killer backstory. See, it’s uncanny isn’t it!
Small details like the reversed footage (once on the beach and once riding the escalator) bring unease to the story, and again build a threat that I’m not quite sure how to interpret! All part of the mind-fuck, which Rehmeier and Gilmore are playing on the audience. Needles to say, Devin Sarno’s moody and brooding score, which flows throughout the entire piece, adds to the distraught feeling and underlying threat. I hope that Rehmeier releases this on some format as was done with the Rising Beast Recordings release of The Bunny Game score.

I actually find it kind off disturbing that there are only six verses when the narrative is lead forth with a day driven title card system. Each verse represents a day and therefore I’m expecting a Monday through Sunday system, so I find it kind of off key and disturbing that there isn’t a seventh, final verse. It’s a deliberate method to create unease with in the audience used by Rehmeier.


At the end of the day, it’s almost as if Rehmeier and Gilmore are questioning our beliefs and us the audience. What do we believe in and why? What where we expecting and why? This is possibly key to the last Verse, that Sunday dawn on the Venice Beach. What beliefs do you take with you there… and why?
A brief warning here as there may be possible spoilers ahead as I wrap up with a few thoughts on the finale to this intriguing and impressive piece of work. The last scene to Jonas is just as much mystery as the main body or work itself too. There’s really no limit to the amount of ways to read the climax, either as a lie, a truth, a revelation, a metaphor or even as a grand anti-climax, which ironically plays perfectly with the way that Rehmeier has built the movie and the expectations we read into the film.

Without banging the drum and conjuring up conventional genre imagery, Rehmeier has created a truly unnerving and curious ride that rappels through a range of emotions and stays captivating all the way through each and every Verse in the gospel of Jonas.

Re-watch The Bunny Game again, and get ready for Jonas, as he will be available soon at JONAS


Friday, July 05, 2013

The Possession



The Possession
Directed by: Ole Bornedal
Horror, 2012
USA/Canada, 92min

Many many years ago, there was a little movie that scared the pants off its audience, and showcased some of Denmark’s most promising talent. A young Kim Bodina and an even younger Nikolaj Coster-Waldau saw their breakthroughs in Ole Bornedal’s first feature (not counting his two earlier TV movies) Nattevagten (Nightwatch) 1994. The critics loved this dark thriller with obvious horror traits and solid performances, as it won a variety of global awards and became an international success. Bornedal finally made his way to Hollywood and even saw his breakthrough success remade at his own hands as Nightwatch with a star cast of Ewan McGregor, Patricia Arquette, Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte… Big, bucks, big names, big trouble…
Never the less, Ole Bornedal, has constantly released movies every now and again, and they are well worth the time checking out, and several of them are well awarded pieces. So what should to expect when one starts to watch a possession film directed by the guy responsible for one of the finest Scandinavian genre films ever?

Well it goes something like this… starting off with a classic “based on a true story” moniker Bornedal wastes no time at all as he establishes the threat of this piece, a wooden box. Or rather the contents of same wooden box, which contains a sinister power so strong and evil, that it makes the old woman who’s about to smash it with a hammer twist and turn violently as she flips and flops around the floor before smashing her face into the glass table.
Gym teacher and divorced father of two Clyde [Jeffrey Dean Morgon], has his two adolescent daughters for the weekend. It starts off as a great weekend, as he surprise them by taking them to his brand new house, sharing a pizza, complaining over IKEA assembly instructions and visiting a yard sale to pick up stuff for his new pad. It’s at this yard sale that Emily, also known as Em finds a wooden casket with strange carvings on the outside of the box. Yup, you guessed it, it’s the same wooden casket from that demonic opening, and to make sure we really understood the connection, the old woman- now severely bandaged and beaten starts to scream at Em when she sees her with the casket from her sickbed by the window…
So far it’s been established that Clyde is a great dad, doing his best, and he also has a fairly good relationship with his wife Stephanie [Kyra Sedgewick]. It’s fair to assume that there’s a longing for reconciliation between the two, especially in the way they interact with each other at the hospital, and in a strange moment when Clyde helps Stephanie delete a spicy home video from her computer…

All right, we know that these are all good folks, well, perhaps not so much Stephanie as she’s already got her new boyfriend, posh high end dentist Brett [Grant Snow] on frequent visits, which bothers Clyde… She’s clearly moved on, and he’s still hurting… See it’s all trickery to help us empathise with him! So with the real world established, the horror can kick in. A force of antagonism has been established, a family with values has been presented, now time to demolish their ordinary world and turn it into a nightmare ridden one instead.
So let’s get to the scares… Emily opens the box and discovers the contents within, Bornedal continues to explore the family as the possession starts. Dead moths from the box come to life, strange contents awaken our imaginations, and through dialogue we learn how the girls really feel about their parents divorce. Cue classic weird possessed behavior and strange midnight events here, some which are really neat, some just to generic to cause any effect. There’s also a sinister little subplot where Clyde is up for a possible job in a different state, hence “abandoning” his daughters. 
Act two starts with metaphoric “Loss of control” as Clyde discovers his eldest daughter now has braces to straighten out her “disfigured” teeth, braces suggested by their mothers new boyfriend, and dentist, Brett. It’s the first time Clyde really reacts to something, and this is merely the beginning of the shift into the unnatural world. Second is the obvious one, his youngest daughter, owner of the strange wooden box Emily, starts acting strange. Where they previously had a beautiful and touching relationship, it changes drastically when the possession starts.
Bornedal takes us to horror convention country. Swarms of moths, small child blurting out potty-mouthed catchphrases, walking weirdly, and growling deeply. The malicious demon may not necessary affect its host, Em, but it certainly does have its vicious ways with those who interfere with Emily and the bond to the demon. Violent death is waiting! What’s interesting is the decision to go with something else than the classic catholic guilt trip and Old Nick lurking in the shadows. The Possession sees Jewish religion being at the core, the box has Hebrew inscriptions and the monster is a Dibbuk, an unruly demon from Jewish folklore. A spot of cool casting sees Matisyahu the Hasidic reggae/rock musician as the bold exorcist that dares take on this evil force no other rabbi will go near.
The Possession may not be super scary, but it is a rather original story, and if nothing else Bornedal gets some fine, solid performances out of his cast. It’s interesting to see a possession movie that takes a different path than the usual one taken when the devil haunts the victims. The movie moves slow and builds some decent characters, even though Grant Snow’s Brett get’s off a bit too easy, and you know from square one that the whole movie will build towards one climactic exorcism, although this one may surprise you as it takes something of a different path there too! At the end of the day, it’s all about family values and how the resurrection of the American nuclear family is a must… oh and last minute twists of fate.
All in all, an entertaining little piece that proves that Bornedal still has it, he can still tell a decent creepy story, an entertaining popcorn horror, but also that studios still care more about cash than presenting genre fans with a terrifying ride. There are two versions of The Possession, make sure you watch the R-Rated version and not the seriously watered down PG-13 version.