Tuesday, December 11, 2018

In short: Possessed (1999)

Original title: Besat

A man flies to Denmark from Romania, only to die shortly after from a mysterious illness whose symptoms are rather congruent with Ebola. When his boss does his very best to downplay the thing and doesn’t even put in the proper care investigating things, highly ambitious virologist Soren (Ole Lemmeke), decides this is his best bet for the big time and waltzes off to Romania with his girlfriend and student Sarah (Kirsti Eline Torhaug) in tow to trace another case with the same symptoms there. Because he has all the diplomatic ability of a Trump, things become rather hairy.

In the film’s parallel plot-line, a mysterious man (Udo Kier!) we will later learn can be described as a rogue astrologist has followed the sick man from Romania using a fake passport. He seems rather fond of burning down things while investigating something we aren’t quite sure about, so the Danish police is after him soon enough. Let’s just say that Satan is apparently a bit like a virus, and it’s time for the end of days.

This film produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa and directed by Anders Rønnow Klarlund is a rather interesting effort: a horror film cleverly mixing possession horror with the viral outbreak thriller made at a time when European horror wasn’t much of a thing outside of Spain and the UK, presented on a scale small enough not to need large crowd scenes of rampaging infected. In its early stages, it can be a bit of a dry movie, taking slightly more time until it allows its audience the opportunity to see some of its big picture than is strictly necessary.

In later stages, it is exactly this dryness that makes the film’s best parts work. It can be, it turns out, an efficient tactic to create suspense by underplaying things so that suddenly, a relatively simple, cleverly thought out, action sequence like Possessed's climax can turn into a bit of a nail biter. Its general understatedness does stand the film in good stead otherwise too, helping it getting around the silliness of a plot that, after all, asks its audience to believe Udo Kier is some kind of badass member of a Satan-fighting cult of astrologists, or that even someone who is as much of a prick as Soren would go so far as to dig out some grieving people’s dead son on their own property. Thing is, in the calm manner the film portrays them, these things are downright believable and logical.

On the visual side, the film does suffer a bit from the great colour shortage that seems to have struck film productions particularly in the late 90s and early 00s, so most scenes here seem to contain exactly one colour (unlike black and white films, which at least had two) - very often vomit green or urine yellow, of course, perhaps artfully representing the characters’ wish to visit the toilet soon. But seriously, despite this visual annoyance that’s very much of his film’s time, Klarlund does manage to create a sense of a darkened mood and of slowly increasing dread.

In its unassuming (Danish?) way, Possession really is a very fine movie.

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