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!

When EVIL Runs The Show, That’s When the Reality Sets In. “Funhouse” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Eight C-grade social media celebrities sign a contract for a new reality show, Furcas’s House of Fun.  The reality show streams worldwide on all electronic devices in an exhibition of different and standoffish personalities locked together in apartment-size living quarters.  Contestants will have to face challenges and weekly viewer voting to be the last one standing for a chance to win a 5 million dollars cash prize  Instead of sexy making out sessions, drunken brawls, and contestant melodrama to boost viewer ratings, Furcas’s House of Fun is in actuality a syndicated snuff reality show where a contestant is voted out is a contestant receiving a brutal death in front of the entire world.  Survivors watch behind paned glass as one-by-one their castmates are dispatched in the most gruesome way possible, directed by a screen animated panda bear helmed by a sadist eager for the show to go on.

Ready to have a little fun?  The “Funhouse” is open for what is a variety show of horrors in this 2019 shot, 2021 released reality show of encroaching aggravation and gore from writer-director Jason William Lee.  “The Evil In Us” filmmaker plays his hand at personifying internalized resentful rage for hack, do-nothing, inconsequential to society celebrities by feeding them gladly and enthusiastically to the bloodthirsty wolves.  “Funhouse” isn’t your typical social media or tech horror film as Lee dishes out a thought-provoking disgust covered in a powdery sugar and popcorn veneer that’s surely to please the broad range of horror fans.  The co-ventured Canadian-Swedish story of shallow fame nihilism is shot in the Providence of British Columbia and in Stockholm, home base of Ti Bonny Productions under executive producer Henrik Santesson, in collaboration with Lee and producer Michael Gyorl’s Sandcastle Pictures.

With the surname Skarsgård, acting is in certainly in the blood.  Valter Skarsgård, the youngest son of “Nymphomaniac” and “Deep Blue Sea’s” Stellan Skarsgård’s first marriage and the brother of terrifyingly frighteningly Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgård (“It”), branches out following his ancestral destiny by headlining as the lovable and misjudged Swede, Kasper Nordin, who leeched fame by being the ex-husband to a renowned singer.  Nearly the spittin’ image of his older brother Bill, Valter brings his name and family looks to the table while showcasing his own talent amongst a motley crew of nationalities.  That’s one of “Funhouse’s” main messages about social media stardom as a plague that has spread to every corner of the world symbolically infecting each contestant from a different country:  Dayleigh Nelson (“Island of the Dolls”) of Britain, Khamisa Wilsher of America, Gigi Saul Guerrero (“Puppet Killer”) of Mexico, Amanda Howells of the Philippines, Mathias Retamal (“The Source of Shadows”) of Chile/Canada,  Karolina Benefield of Poland, and Christopher Gerard of Ireland.  The roles of wannabe celebrities is an ostentatious representation of click bait influencers who will sell essentially their soul and show their skin to be noticed and this turns the clear antagonist villain, a merciless gamester and contract abider with business dealings more vile than from the Devil himself, to be a subtle antihero of sorts as the cast rounds out with Jerome Velinsky’s wickedly sophisticated performance as Nero Alexander that is urbane nihilism at its best. 

Outrageous, fun, and gory – “Funhouse” has all the hallmarks of a 90’s horror on cruise control.  With a bedazzling rudimentary shell of a panda bear avatar animation and blend of practical and digital blood over the simplicity of a small location and indie production, Lee is able to fly through the narrative at whiplash speed and still drop animosity-awarding and empathetic traits to believe in the cast of characters.  In the middle of the chaos of axe splitting heads and being dunked into a barrel of highly corrosive acid, a topical theme of the detrimental social media and influencer stardom to society really positions “Funhouse” on the frontline for inflammatory and anti-social media messages, harping on the noncontributing and unbeneficial role of these money-generating, like-focusing, click baiters in culture and society other than selling to their audiences sex, gossip, and violence.  Speaking of violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the right amount of gore that didn’t shoot for extravagant levels despite some smoothing around the digitally added sinew and guts, keeping a modest amount of realism to the dystopian gameshow construct.  Initially, there are dubious first act moments that quickly shuttle hapless soon-to-be-casualties into the same location, much like in “Saw II” when characters all wake up in the room together and we have no idea who they are, where they come from, and what their backstory is, but as the film progresses we learn more about them and the roles they play in the maniacal puppeteer’s design.  The twist, almost meta-like, ending leaves “Funhouse” on a low note that doesn’t fulfill any void for its existence, but a good chunk of the story is really meaty with a revolving door of plights and a small, yet efficient, compassion outpouring spicket.

Not your traditional participatory surprise-laden and mirror maze attraction, “Funhouse” will still bring old-style thrills with some new blood spills in it’s grand opening release in theaters and on demand on May 28th courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Shawn Seifert (“Dead of Night”) lays out a smorgasbord of cinematography techniques that includes rich, un-matted color filters, isolating characters in darker, dim rooms in making them seem centerstage for their own grand demise, and cultivates stationary, handheld, tracking, and some drone shots for an extremely vibrant and glossy approach and feel for reality television version 2.0. Lee edits the digital reel himself and, honestly, the pacing wanders quickly to the overly rushed section like a quick-spit-it-out story wanting to be finished before it even begins and is compounded with another intrusive quality in the hyperactive back-and-forth of shots that aims to resemble the irksome flight in and out of reality shows that speed up and slow down like a nervous teenager behind the wheel of their parents and continuously presses down on the brake pedal. Stay tuned after credits for a gag bit scene that ties into the main story but promises nothing more. No more being voted off the island or nixed by expert judges, “Funhouse” cleans house with deadly eliminations and a message of the unyielding power granted to many so easily through a rapidly reshaping medium that has become too influential on a braindead scale.