Watching Joel Bergvall and Simon Sandquist’s Possession is, quite simply, perfect Shrine material. Especially when you have a few drinks in you. So that’s what my friends Lisa, Cody and I did one night. It was fantastic. I’m happy to explain why.
Based on the Korean film, Addicted (2002), this American remake is firmly fixed into female romantic/sexual fantasy. To be more blunt, this movie was made so women can watch it and put themselves in the shoes of the attractive, successful Jess (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Then they can fantasize about the two men vying for her heart while the melodramatic orchestral score booms and peaks.
First of all there is “the perfect man”: Jess’s husband, Ryan (Michael Landes), a man who simply doesn’t exist in real life. He sneaks a rose into her handbag every day. He writes her a love letter once a week. His hobbies include gardening, cooking, origami, saxophone serenades, surprising Jess with gifts and, most ridiculously, making a clay bust of her likeness in his garden studio. Also, he’s gay he wants children and his idea of a perfect evening is watching their wedding video and staring at Jess by candlelight.
Also also, I’m pretty sure he loves spooning, Grey’s Anatomy and ice cream.
But there’s a problem. Jess not only lives with her husband but his brooding ex-convict brother, Roman (Lee Pace). This guy is the complete opposite: “the bad boy.” He berates Jess and Ryan, skulks around hallways, smokes, throws wrenches around and doesn’t wear a shirt a lot of the time. His hobbies include tattoos, having rough sex, slapping womenfolk and bogarting all of the juice in the household.
He also likes to stare at Jess, especially through windows. But who cares? This is a movie and he’s, like, hot and stuff. He also admits that he wishes he was someone else. Maybe he’s sensitive under that muscle-y exterior. Ooh! I think this will be a love triangle!
Oops. Called it. To make a long story short Ryan and Roman get in a car accident on the Golden Gate Bridge and both end up in comas. Wait- wait, let me back up. I don’t think you get it. Ryan and Roman were in separate cars and ran into each other in a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge. Just by chance. Accept it. At this point Cody said, “I wish they had flown through their windshields and high-fived each other before hitting the ground. It would have been less cheesy.”
Cut to: Jess running through a hallway in a hospital. She is standing between the two hospital beds and asks, “Which one is my husband?” (Cody deadpanned: “Dude, the one that doesn’t have a soul patch.”) A doctor tells her which man is her husband- no, I’m not joking- and she promptly goes home and forgets to do the dishes for a month. She then cries over one of her husband’s love letters, which was obviously written by a woman.
In the meantime, Roman wakes up but claims he is Ryan. It’s absolutely devastating when he gets to a mirror.
Then it gets even worse. Roman/Ryan has to go home with Jess for some goddamn reason and he realizes his beautiful garden has died in his absence. He almost starts crying. It’s obvious that he has totally reformed.
By this time the three of us were quite tipsy and almost crying from laughter. Roman/Ryan tells Jess he is her husband over and over, citing specific details from their marriage. For example, there’s that time when they looked for her headband on a beach for several hours. Lisa said, “Who would look for a headband that long? They’re like, two dollars.” Jess reacts by running to her room and checking these details against all of the photos and letters from her husband she keeps in a large ornate box on her dresser. Seem weird to you? Hold that thought.
Over the next couple of weeks Jess broods, stares and talks to random secondary characters who only have a few lines. She tells one of her co-workers, “What if it’s real? What if I could have him (Ryan) back?” Then, instead of ruthlessly questioning Roman/Ryan or asking herself, “Do I remember my husband being this creepy?” she takes him to a hypnotist. The results are inconclusive. She then tries to separate from Roman/Ryan but they just… can’t…. stay… away… from each other…
Soon enough they are in the sack together, going at it like jackhammers.
Now, we all know that this whole “body switch” thing could be a lie. But shortly after we realize that there is some real, weird connection between Roman/Ryan and the comatose Ryan in the hospital. Perhaps this is just a plot convenience (I sure think it is).
Anyway, one morning Roman/Ryan makes a joke about Jess being short and he nearly has a heart attack. It turns out that the comatose Ryan doesn’t like you to make jokes about his wife.
Comatose Ryan has caused this heart attack, or seizure- whatever- while lying in the hospital. After some deliberation Jess admits she can’t pull the plug on comatose Ryan despite his failing health. She’s afraid that if she does both men will die. Also, there’s a new development: Roman’s jealous ex-girlfriend, Casey (Tuva Novotny) has gone missing, but hey- that’s just a detail. Sort of.
Anywho, Jess is pregnant now and everything is going swimmingly by then. Roman/Ryan is proving to be just as swooningly romantic as comatose Ryan was before; making a baby cradle, cooking meals and saying things like, “I love it when you boss me around.”
This is hilarious because- guess what? I’m going to blow it for you. Roman/Ryan isn’t pussywhipped. He isn’t even real. It’s just Roman pretending to be Ryan. Der. He got all of the information he needed from the aforementioned ornate box Jess left lying around. Der. All three of us were shouting at the screen by then: “Come on, lady!” Once Jess figures this out it’s a fight to the death because in movies like this people don’t talk things through or call the police first. What are those movies called again? That’s right. Lifetime movies.
Anyway, they fight and comatose Ryan joins in somehow. That’s right: COMAFIGHT.
So now this is a battle of the minds. Well, maybe. I’m not sure. Roman has another mini-heart attack or something. But the screwdriver Jess wields kind of finishes the job.
Roman dies in a sitting position with his eyes open, as a lot of screen villains do. What a cliche. Wait a minute… that kind of describes the whole movie.
What we have here is- like I said- pure female fantasy. There are taboos, such as having sex with two brothers: one of those ultimate, quasi-incestuous love triangles. There is the romantic archetype of the perfect husband who you know is doomed from the moment he shows up (much in the same way the soldier who talks about his girlfriend back home is the first to snuff it in a war film). There is love that is strong from beyond death, or at least from beyond a coma- so strong it’s supernatural. There is also the attraction to the bad boy, reforming him and then just turning around and returning to the nice guy who will always take you back. Except he’s in a coma. And you’re pregnant with his brother’s baby. Man, us women can be such bitches sometimes.
Although Cody, Lisa and I got a good laugh out of Possession we agreed that it was no fault of the leads that it didn’t work out. Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a bad actress. An acquaintance of mine once described her as an excellent “face actress,” which is true. She can emote quite well without saying anything. The strange thing is that although the character of Jess is dumb, Gellar’s performance isn’t.
Then there’s Lee Pace as Roman. Hey, I like Pace. I own The Fall. I curled up in the fetal position and cried when I found out he was cast in Breaking Dawn because I actually care about his career. Pace is one of those actors who can be completely unrecognizable from role to role without the aid of costume or makeup. He’s an emotional chameleon. Is he good at playing Roman? Yeah. That’s because Pace can do friggin’ anything, so playing a guy pretending to be another guy isn’t very hard for him.
It’s just that this movie was dumb.
Which is weird, because it didn’t really need to be. There was an alternate ending to Possession that is over thirty minutes long and it’s a completely different film. The twist is the same- Roman is pretending to be Ryan- but he isn’t psychotic or vengeful. He just loves Jess and is crushed by guilt, trying to give her husband back to her. This is closer to the original film it was based on and the overall effect is much more disturbing and thought-provoking.
The last ten minutes are the most different of all. There is hardly any dialogue, just Gellar’s tortured face as she makes up her mind about what to do. She wanders through her house and garden and the film takes on the eerie quality of Maya Deren’s Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943).
Even though the rest of the film was rather silly, this would have been harder to laugh at.
But guess what? The filmmakers didn’t release that version.
Until then, this theatrical cut can happily join the Shrine. Its companions are awaiting with open arms.