From the Nightmare Before Christmas to Laika’s newest film The Boxtrolls, Claymation films always bring out adventurous audiences. There’s an unmistakable charm to stop-motion of pictures, as their unhinged style works as the perfect conduit for themes of the occult or a sinister nature. Although 2D animation is slowly phasing out, people recognize the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that go into every movie made this way, perhaps because of the valiant efforts of Ben Wyatt.
What is certainly the biggest oddball of the festival, does Posessed provide a sense of unique charm to win the affections from the open-minded Annecy filmgoers?
“Possessed” (Pos eso, Sam Orti, Spain)
– This claymation film “Possessed” is in some respects my biggest disappointment of the festival, but at the same time I can’t blame the creators for it. After viewing a few brief clips and pictures from the film, I was expecting something similar to “The Apostle” (O Apostolo), which was also a Spanish stop-motion movie – a film which I strongly recommend seeing. Both films also have a religious horror setting, as well having a very similar greedy cardinal side character. The key difference between the two is that “The Apostle” takes itself very seriously, while “Pos eso” is a wacky, “Scary Movie” type spoof.
The story is a mix of “The Exorcist” and “The Omen” with references to other horror films thrown in as well, including “Poltergeist”, “Child’s Play” and “Critters”. We follow two stories – frst involving an Indiana Jones-like priest named Father Lenin, who has spent time collecting artifacts for an over-the-top corrupted cardinal. After the cardinal takes things too far, the angry priest leaves the church and decides to follow his late, Communist mother’s dream of living a secular life. This leads the priest to involve himself in all sorts of debauchery.
At the same time we fallow the story of Trini, an ex-flamenco dancer with a demon-possessed son named (what else?) Damien. With the boy using his demonic power to kill random people, Trini is desperate for an exorcist. Well, you can imagine how the two stories connect. However, they don’t even cross paths until the last third of the film.
One of the movie’s biggest problems is the humor. While I’ll openly admit there were plenty of zany things that made me chuckle, a lot of the film’s comedy comes from gross out gags. Some things occasionally work, like when a particularly bloody and gory scene is accompanied by some happy flamenco music. But then we get a twisted scene where a guy steps on a dog; squishing him like a pancake so a big piece of poo can jump out of his butt. I don’t know what it is about clay-animation, but somehow the gross jokes are just extra-gross when it comes to things like snot, vomit and blood, and this movie has plenty of it. We also get stuff like a priest crying by his mother’s deathbed while her grotesquely wrinkled body is bizarrely showcased for humorous effect.
The horror references weren’t that creative (some felt downright lazy, if not forced) and if you are religious (especially Catholic) you might find the jokes way too harsh if not mean-spirited. The worst part is that the movie lacks any emotion – which doesn’t matter in a spoof film, but when it tries to have a few brief moments involving pathos, it just doesn’t work. We don’t see any emotional connections between Trini and her son; both are just caricatures. In the end, why should we care during the climax? Why care about a priest losing and regaining his faith if you aren’t going to show the faith being there in the first place?
“Possessed” feels like something out of Seth McFarlane’s school of writing. There are some genuinely funny things in it, but there’s plenty of stuff that will leave you feeling disappointed.
If Maciek nailed anything down about Possessed’s trailer, it’s the potency of the stomach-curdling gore effects. So many of the kills shown in that video remind me a lot of the gruesome deaths in Celebrity Deathmatch. With the way many modern CGI films try to recapture quick, human movement, you forget how well slowed down footage works for stop-motion characters.
I really appreciate the amount of unique set-pieces within the trailer. An issue I have with some movies such as Frankenweenie or The Boxtrolls is the lack of interesting backgrounds. Those films had the need to focus far to heavily on their themes or referencing and didn’t want to build additional sets to break away from the monotony. (But reasonably so, as this is the most physically time-consuming animation genre) I love the desert, the floating effects, and the touches of CGI to make the supernatural scenes more eerie.
What worries me about the film are two specific references within the review: Seth MacFarlane and Scary Movie. The best I can say about the latter of the two is the first two movies are somewhat re-watchable. Animation has the opportunity tons of visual gags beyond what is physically possible, but that can be a problem if the film wants center on grossness as an actual punchline. When it comes to Seth MacFarlane, well, anyone who has watched the later seasons of Family Guy knows how preachy he can get. And his depictions towards subjects such as religion get downright mean-spirited at points rather than funny or insightful. The advertising for the movie makes it a bit concerning, as the two posters are complete opposites. The first is like a classic, exploitation poster filled with buzzwords and the other is atmospheric and haunting.
I might be giving this film too much credit, but I do think it could make for an entertaining watch. Hopefully it won’t make me want to summon an exorcist of my own, like I’m already preparing for Hell & Back.