Monday, May 28, 2012

Possession (1981)

In one scene in Andrzej Zulawski’s “cult” horror thriller, “Possession” (1981), Sam Neill’s character Mark tells Isabelle Adjani’s character Anna, “I think of you as an animal, or a woman possessed…”! It wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to say that this is true of almost all the characters in this substandard mess of a horror film cum “intense” drama, for all the primary characters behave like mentally deranged morons or appear stoned whenever they are on screen.

We begin with a creepy background score during the title credits when Mark (Sam Neill, at his very worst) arrives from “far away”, back to his son Bob (Michael Hogben) and wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani). Their first meeting after a seemingly huge gap seems awkward; all is clearly not well with their marriage. Later there is some vague talk between the couple, trying to explain the lack of intimacy. “There is always someone else, when these things happen”, Mark insinuates that Anna is being unfaithful. She denies in the beginning, but later admits to having an affair. A shattered Mark soon finds out that it is a man named Heinrich (Heinz Bennet), an Anthony Hopkins lookalike, sexually ambiguous character. But Heinrich and his mother both admit that they haven’t seen Anna for “weeks”! The mystery deepens and there could be something/someone else contributing to Anna’s continuous absence and increasingly erratic behavior. Mark hires a private detective Zimmerman (Shaun Lawton) to follow Anna and very soon a bizarre secret is unearthed, which is somehow linked to a mysterious tentacled monster..…

“Possession” begins on an alarmingly wrong note. The horrible dialog and the actors’ over-the-top dialog delivery are largely to blame. A serious conversation seems very dramatic, awkward and fake and therein lies the biggest problem with this film. Senseless ramblings and non sequiturs abound! The lead characters are going through a bitter married relationship, yet one fails to connect to them or feel any sympathy, thanks to the abysmally bad acting, especially by Sam Neill! He is horrendous here, and while Neill’s later performances are quite good, he is simply unbearable in this early acting venture of his. Then there is Isabelle Adjani who can emote very well in some scenes, but again, falls flat while delivering some vital lines of dialog. And when she isn’t doing that, she is mostly convulsing hysterically and trying hard to be the scream queen of the century. There is so much of cacophony, fighting and yelling, bickering and beating about throughout the film that it eventually gets on the nerves! It is just too jarring, shrill and unintentionally comic at times to be taken any seriously! A lookalike (a doppelganger?) of Anna shows up as a green-eyed, more quiet Helen (Adjani again) who is a teacher to Bob. It is with this role that Adjani gets to have a breather for a change, because otherwise it must’ve been a hell of a tiring shoot for her, shredding her vocal cords off and throwing herself all over the set!

The film’s plot has an ambiguous nature. A lot of vague information is exchanged; fleeting mentions of “pink socks”, “faith”, “chance” and “divinity”. The happenings in the film aren’t supposed to be taken in the literal sense. There is supposed to be some deeply allegorical meaning within, pertaining to marriage and divorce and finding God and happiness; yet any kind of interest to find a deeper meaning is overshadowed, thanks to the god-awful script and the embarrassing situations Zulawski puts his actors into. Imagine making all of them act like they do, it boggles the mind. 

Heinz Bennet is another such actor whose Heinrich character seems to be perpetually stoned and delivers lines of dialog as if he is delivering a sermon, rehearsed too! A couple more characters like Margit Gluckmeister (Margit Cartensen), Anna’s best friend, and a detective (Carl Duering) sent to find out Anna’s whereabouts, do their bits in being the jesters in this circus of madness. Caricature-like characterization, to a great extent, and a substantial lack of suspense mar any prospects the film otherwise had owing to its intricate plot which is again, mostly incoherent in the preliminary viewing but makes some weird sense after a bit of analysis.

And then there is the “creature” (no spoilers there; the creature and its special effects creator, Carlo Rambaldi are already announced in the title credits); a slimy octopus-like monster that appears in some 3-4 scenes. But unlike other B-horror films in which such creatures usually slither around, attacking people, this creature just sits there, which is a welcome relief. Its origin and purpose of existence become clearer as the blood-soaked climax of the film approaches.

There are a few redeeming qualities in “Possession”, like the aforementioned, deliberately equivocal plot that offers some good food for thought and room for multiple interpretations, and a couple disturbing moments, like the scene in the subway when Anna experiences a violent seizure of sorts like she is possessed by an unseen power…a terrific display of an uninhibited and energetic performance in that one scene wins Adjani all the points she deserves (and only she deserves points, if at all) in this otherwise doomed venture.

Score: 5/10.

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