When Marriage Sours, EVIL From Within Manifests. “Possession” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

After his return from a lengthy time abroad, Mark finds himself in a contentious and spiteful relationship with his skittish wife Anna unveils her infidelity.  Unable to pry any kind of information from her before her sudden disappearance, Mark results to all the stages of grief and heartache:  denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.   Anna comes-and-goes from Mark and their son’s life, but their spats continue, increasing in anger and violence which each encounter.  Mark hires private investigators to track down Anna’s whereabouts.  He evens confronts her flamboyant and Zen-mastering lover.  But when Mark comes face-to-face with Anna’s sinister secret, a sub rosa affair unlike anything Mark has ever seen, he will go to unimaginable lengths to protect the wife he obsessively loves. 

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” spans over a number of parallels that, in abstract theory, reflect social political matters of a post-war, Berlin wall divided Germany and the personal matters of Zulawski as a mirror of his ugly and bitter divorce from actress Malgorzata Braunek.  The 1981, Berlin shot, inimitable horror is a speeding melodramatic bullet train racing down a tracklayer of surreal rails and planks, ripping toward destruction with two turbulent people who about to slam, engine first, into an unforeseen mountain façade of towering despondency. That unforeseen mountain takes form from the tug-a-war of within, materializing duplicity, in every sense of the word, unnaturally. Frederic Tuten cowrote the emotionally florid and easily post-grad thesis dissecting film with Zulawski that was French mounted by Gaumont Film Company under producer Marie-Laure Reyre. Two other French companies, Oliane Productions and Soma Films, co-produced.

Watching Mark (“Jurassic Park” and “Event Horizon’s” Sam Neill), and Anna (“The Tenant” and “Diabolique’s” Isabelle Adjani) go at each other’s throat in a vicious cycle of matrimony madness can be in itself, maddening. Neill and Adjani radiate such loathing and desperation that’s seeing the two interact could possibly ignite World War III right there in the heart of Germany. What makes the contentious and hyperventilating scenes more interesting and alluring are the actors’ stage-like, full of hyperbolic melodrama, performances that somehow don’t quite register as the feisty interactions playout in what can only be concluded being pinpoint precision. Even Heinrich (“A Young Emmanuelle’s” Heinz Bennent”) is blatantly over-the-top with erratically wild movements of his body during scenes of emotional and physical struggle. Zulawski and “Possession” embraces the international cast with individual methodology on acting from Britain, France, Germany, and with even Zulawski who’s Polish and though you know the film is set in a divided Berlin between East and West Germany, there’s never this sense that “Possession” is strictly locked down to be anything but German. Aside from the Berlin Wall and some signage, maybe even the architecture, the multinational cast thins out the inklings of thinking, “oh yeah, this is filed in Germany!” “Possession” cast concludes with Margit Carstensen, Shaun Lawton, Johanna Hofner, Michael Hogben and Carl Duering.

Being that this was my second sit down with Andrzej Zulaski’s “Possession,” the first being Second Sight Films’ DVD release over 10 years ago, you begin to fathom the pattern of surrealism Zulaski aims to bombard viewers with through incessant bickering and an unspoken love-and-hate undertone. The doppelganger theory that’s attached itself to “Possession” from over the years warrants merit because those in a relationship on the precipice of implosion always wish the other person to be a better version of themselves, of who they want them to be, or of who they fell in love with in the first place. One can’t go deep into the doppelganger theory without totally exposing all of “Possession’s” secrets, surreal or not, and that infestation of preference takes shape for Zulaski as, ironically enough, a shapeless creature. The desire is tremendously powerful for Anna she can’t avoid being away from it for long stretches of a time, popping in to her and Mark’s old apartment for just enough time to have Mark stir the pot with his own manifested infernal creature, himself. Anna, an extremely passive woman, rarely confronts Mark about her infidelity and is always Mark who has to extract that information with every tooth and nail. “Possession” will forever be hailed a film that can analyzed over and over again without ever finding a concrete interpretation and, you know what, we can live with that.

As I said, last time “Possession” was visited by these aging eyes was over a decade ago on a UK DVD. Now, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with a new Blu-ray release from Australia. Umbrella Entertainment, in conjunction with The Film Institute (TFI) Films Production, releases a single disc, full 1080p Blu-ray, registered as their volume #11 on the spine, as part of the banner’s Beyond Genres collection. Presented in European widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this “Possession” release has a giant leap of negative exposure in comparison to Second Sight’s DVD, retreating away from a more natural and textural palpable transfer, full of detail and good amount of grain, to a blue-tinged headscratcher with a higher contrast that renders details and shadows nearly wiped out. The transfer is also conveyed with slight damage seen in approx. minute 14 with a vertical scratch and some image destabilization that makes discernability dematerialize right before your eyes near minute 44 and 57. The English language DTS-HD 2.0 master audio renders better with cleaner tracks seeing little-to-none hissing or static. The dialogue’s apparent and unobstructed thought slightly isolating without much depth. Despite some limited capacity with the dual channels, “Possession’s” more adrenalized scenes/ranges – i.e., speeding car flip, shoot outs, apartment explosion – sound effective and robust. Special features include an archival audio commentary with director Andrzej Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an archival interview with the late Zulawski The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession from 2011, a U.S. Cut of the film with a following featurette Repossessed, a location featurette A Divided City, the musical compositions in an interview with composer Andrej Korzynski The Sounds of Possession, an interview with producer Christian Ferry Our Friend in the West, a poster analysis, and the international and U.S. theatrical trailer. What’s presented by Umbrella is the fully uncut 123-minute version in a region B-code format though, weirdly enough, rated 18. Another weird note about the release is the back cover credits are displayed in French on the cardboard slipcover housing the reversible DVD artwork featuring a new illustrated snapcase cover art by Simon Sherry. I’m a clear fan of “Possession’s” clear ambiguity despite being not sure positive about the new Blu-ray release. Zulawski’s tale of corrosive dissolving of wedlock definitely fits the Beyond Genres banner and is a fine edition to Umbrella’s celebratory bank of classic horror.


Possess Your Own Copy of Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray Release of “Possession” Today!

Nothing Says EVIL Like a Woman Scorned! “Revenge” reviewed! (Second Sight / BR Screener)


Richard, a wealthy businessman, and Jen, his young, candy arm mistress, helicopter in onto Richard’s desert retreat house. While his wife and children are at home, Richard plans to spend his time away relishing a pleasurable weekend that involves relaxing by the outdoor firepit, swimming in the infinity pool, being sultry with Jen, and do a bit of hunting along the mountains, canyons, and riverbeds. When Richard’s associates, Stan and Dimitri, arrive a day early, a party filled night rapidly ensues, but events turn sour when Jen is brutally attacked the next day and Richard plans to snuff out the scandal before it unravels to ruin him. Unwilling to cooperate with a coverup, Jen is nearly murdered by her three attackers only to arise like the rebirth of the Phoenix, igniting a vengeful fire inside her as she uses everything she has at her disposal to finish what they started.

In a day and age when the slightest bit of a woman’s attention can explode into a vile reaction of testosterone warped misguidance and it’s the woman who is shamed as the accosted criminal being barked at aggressively by the unequivocal fearful and condemning voices of the male species, it’s movies like Coralie Fargeat’s action-packed “Revenge” that symbolizes woman’s resiliencies against men’s efforts in a show of violent force that’s “First Blood” without John Rambo, but rather with a scorned princess for retributive capital justice. “Revenge” is the French filmmaker’s first full-length penned and directed feature film that’s one gritty and bloody grindhouse vindictive sonovabitch, a pure punch to the throat, and a direct message to misogyny everywhere. Filmed in the Morocco desert during Winter, the small cast is swallowed by the vastly arid landscape of transfixing cruelty, a synonymous parallel to the feat the heroine Jen is drawn to task. It’s also a feat that Fargeat managed to salvage to finally release a rape-revenge thriller backed by a conglomerate of production firms and financiers to stand with a film from a first time director whose treatment offers up maltreatment of women, such as the rape, along with the savagery, the concept of revenge, and ridiculous amounts of blood. M.E.S. Productions, Monkey Pack Films, Charades, Logical Pictures, Nextas Factory and Umedia are just to name a few of the production companies to be supporting capital.

With a role embodying the symbolic brutalization of physical and mental rape, a role of complete loneliness in a fatal skirmish against their attackers, and in a role forsaken in the face of death only to be reborn from the ashes of their former self, Matilda Lutz’s fully charged capacity to tackle such a demanding performance is beyond praiseworthy, scrapping the timid traits from Jen’s ravaged glossy persona and replacing with a rigid exterior ready and willing to combat to the death. The Italian born Lutz has to go through a metamorphosis and refashion Jen to be able to differentiate from her more bubbly first half self as the easy kill or the disposable male plaything. In a twisted turn of events, Jen’s mortal adversaries have every advantage to douse out Jen’s existence: gear, guns, vehicles, clothes, water, fuel, numbers, etc. Yet, despite all the advantages, the desert, much like Jen, is unforgiving as it is bare. Richard (Kevin Janssens), Stan (Vincent Colombe), and Guillaume Bouchede (Dimitri) exude the utmost confidence their grip around Jen’s throat. Janssens’ fortifies as the rigorous cutthroat, a misogynistic philanderer, determined to save his own skin no matter the cost while Colombe’s Stan is a retracting coward with regretful impulses. Colombe’s brings the comedy to a grimly tale and positions Stan to be the teetering villain tarnished by his guilt of nearly killing Jen, but never apologizes to being the catalytic rapist that initiates the whole debacle. Bouchede supplements with his divestment to charm as the overweight, do-nothing witness to save Jen from Stan’s seizing urges. As Dimitri, Bouchede stalls his typical niceties to be the silent violator who can open up the flood gates of aggression when transgression warrants it.

“Revenge” has an ultra-violent and super-synth finish chapping with multiple motifs of a rebirth theme and supplies a hefty bloodletting of incorporeal measures. Knocking it out of the park in her first feature film, Fargeat’s cauterizes the unnerving serious tone with alleviated black comedy of the bloodiest kind. The roundabout endgame chase comes to mind, involving a frazzled Jen and a wounded, but indomitable Richard in a merry-go-round of a shotgun standoff is some of the best editing work of fast and ferocious content I’ve seen in some time while still able to vitalize a transparent sense of what’s occurring. However, not all the slick editing is flawless. Some minor inconsistencies in the editing are noticeable and while these moments of lapse are not detrimental or pivotal to the story, they reflect Fargeat’s challenges of making a hyper-stylized action-thriller in her freshman full-length feature. In a sense, everything Fargeat’s deploys positions “Revenge” into a surreal tonality, glamorized for those thirsty for blood gushing in a canyon-vast desert bristled with rape and payback where a mere four players in this ebb and flow game of killer combat chess can effortlessly locate each other, but one can always find their prey by following their blood trail, another motif that continues to pop up that speaks metaphors of their life blood is the very object gives them away in the end.

Giving the limited edition treatment that it deserves, Second Sight Films’s Blu-ray release of “Revenge” is a mouthwatering narcotic of raging cathexis and while the Blu-ray BD-R can’t be technically critiqued, the LE release offers HD 1080p transfer of the original, 2.39:1 aspect ratio and sports an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. While Fargeat might be inspired by Lynchian themes, the cinematography work by Robrecht Heyvaert also resembles “Pitch Black” director David Twohy’s films with making something small larger than life and a particular chase scene involving all four characters at the edge of a canyon stroke a familiar chord with Twohy’s “A Perfect Getaway.” There were Second Sight Films’ exclusive bonus features included on the disc, featuring new interviews with director Carolie Fargeat and star Matilda Lutz (entitled “Out for Blood”) an interview with Dimitri actor Guillaume Bouchede (entitled “The Coward”), a interview with Robrecht Heyvaert (entitled “Fairy Tale Violence”), a new interview with composer Robin Coudert and the synth sounds of “Revenge,” and a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author and editor of Diabolique. The release is sheathed inside a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Adam Stothard as well as a poster and a new soft cover book with new writings by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic Overall, “Revenge” received a monster packaged release ready for the taking on May 11th. “Revenge” destroys toxic masculinity and breathes a vindictive hope from the fiery embers of rebirth and destruction.