Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This one looked neat at Fantasia this summer - it played as part of the series tied to Kier-La Janisse's book House of Psychotic Women, with its poster actually serving as the book's special-edition cover - but I believe the print was in French, and even if I had any practice, my language skills appear to stink. So, when I saw it was playing the Harvard Film Archive in something that, if you squint, looks kind of like a run as opposed to a screening (it played twice on the 17th, and will play once more on Saturday the 24th and twice on Sunday the 25th), I was kind of glad, even though I had no idea of just how strange the movie was.

And, brother, is this a weird one, even without trying to wrap my head around young, thin, unlined Sam Neill (as far as I'm concerned, Neill appeared fully formed with the release of Jurassic Park, much the way Helen Mirren didn't exist before Prime Suspect and my brain rejects images that claim otherwise). As I say in the review, I have no idea what the original US cut must have been like; it took 47 minutes out of a 127-minute movie, and aside from a few climactic scenes with action and gross-outs in them, I'm not sure how one decides which moments among the rest are important.

One thing I found myself particularly impressed by is how everything supernatural is at least consistent emotionally. A great many horror movies tend to throw a bunch of weird/gross things together but never hook them in; consider this year's movie named "Possession" (keeping it as The Dybbuk Box would have been so helpful), where there was weird stuff with moths coming out of people's mouths that was creepy, but didn't really mean anything. It's tough with horror movies; you want them to have mystery but not cheat, so having it all work emotionally if not logically is a good compromise.

Anyway, if you're in Boston next weekend, check it out at the HFA. It looks like the announced Blu-ray release is only in the UK as yet, so these screenings seem like the best chance to see in over here.

Possession (1981)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2012 in the Harvard Film Archive (Special Engagement, 35mm)

Some movies like to let the audience settle in and develop a false sense of security before hitting them with the strange, figuring that will make it all the more shocking. This is not the game plan Andrzej Zulawski adhered to with Possession at all; this movie starts out with high intensity insanity and only cranks things up from there; it's a movie that keeps the audience in its seats as much via stunned disbelief as excellent quality.

Mark (Sam Neill) has just returned to West Berlin after a long foreign assignment, possibly in espionage from the way he's debriefed. Almost immediately, it's clear that his marriage to Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is disintegrating. He practically explodes when he learns that she's been having an affair with someone named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent); she is soon only briefly appearing in Mark's life to spend time with their son Bob (Michael Hogben). Strangely, Bob's schoolteacher Helen is a dead ringer for Anna, and despite Mark's suspicions, Anna is not spending the time she's gone with Heinrich.

This is not the sort of movie about a failing marriage where things appear placid on the outside only to be revealed as crumbling on closer examination; there's screaming from the get-go, the apartment is a disaster area, and both halves of the couple just up and vanish for extended periods of time. After establishing a situation so fraught with tension, Zulawski could step back; instead, he pushes the strangeness further, first into the realm of the eccentric and then into the horrific, and finally...

Full review at EFC.

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