After the death of Spain’s most famous bullfighter, Gregorio, his wife Trini — a famous flamenco dancer — falls into an inescapable pit of depression but their son, Damien, seems to be the most affected by it. With violent fits and blacking out, everyone suspects he is simply lashing out from losing his father. That is until Damien starts making objects levitate and summoning demons. Now only an excommunicated priest named Lenin can save the boy.
Having worked as cinematographer for the claymated short film, “Vicenta”, and directed his own charmingly weird clay-short, “The Werepig”. Animator Samuel Orí has come to the Fantasia International Film Festival with his feature length debut, “Possessed”. A claymation film with broad comedy strokes and some nice winks and nods to horror classics.
Famous celebrity couple Trini (a flamenco dancer) and Gregorio (a bullfighter) have a son named Damien, but it isn’t long after Damien is born that Gregorio meets an untimely death. While Spain mourns their loss, Trini becomes severely depressed and gives up flamenco dancing to take care of her son. Damien begins acting out, violently, and everyone believes this is simply the result of his father’s passing. That is until Damien’s head begins spinning around, he projectile vomits pea soup, levitates items and summons demons. A psych tells Trini and her mother-in-law that help can be found in the form of a priest named Lenin — a man who was recently excommunicated by the Bishop after Lenin loses his way due to his mother's death. Together, Lenin and Trini must find their strength, and faith, if they wish to save Damien from the clutches of Satan.
In the festival guide, “Possessed” was described as being a cross between “Wallace and Gromit” and “South Park”, and that seems to be the most accurate way to describe Samuel’s debut. A seemingly innocent looking animated film, the style of animation and design in “Possessed” seems to stem more from a Nick Park-esque form. Rather than say, Henry Selick’s stylization that I think people tend to be more familiar with. Samuel has his own style, of course, but it’s more of a cartoon-like quality instead of a quasi-gothic exaggerated style.
It’s that look of cartoonish innocence that can lure you into a false sense that what you’re watching is wholesome family entertainment. That is until you’re slapped in the face with the film’s unapologetic crass and gross-out nature of its comedy. You’re treated to an array of gags from dismemberment to golden-showers. Nothing is held back and it’s both a good and a bad thing with “Possessed”.
Samuel Orí Martí and Rubén Ontiveros have a clear idea of what kind of comedy they want, so the gags aren’t a hodgepodge of different humor styles being thrown at the audience to see what sticks. At the same time though, there are moments when the humor is being forced; like seeing large comical amount of snot hanging from the nose of a camera operator in which Trini's manager is being interviewed. The scene (of the camera operator) only lasts a few seconds but you're left wondering what the point was since it didn't relate to anything that was going on — they just wanted to show you something silly and gross. Which would be fine, but it's not funny and is obviously forced. Not every joke is going to land their mark, of course, but those shoved in gags detract from the film’s natural comedy element.
Even with the occasional forced joke or when a joke falls flat, “Possessed” never loses it’s overall entertainment value (it’s just not as good as it could have been). The movie’s value, at it’s core, is how it pays tribute to horror films by being a comedic take on the classic possession story. As I said, there are a number of winks and nods to horror movies (“The Exorcist” being the most obvious) but there’s a well done story beyond the parody and homages. It does, unfortunately, take awhile for the movie to get going (the movie feels longer than its runtime) since quite a bit of time is spent developing back story for the characters. But having said that, that slow build up works in favor of the movie since the story and the characters are more effective than the comedy.
"Possessed" is a well written and executed script and, overall, I enjoyed watching it. It’s not quite as wild and outrageous as I thought it was going to be because of the film’s casual pace. Also because there is an actual focus on the story and characters — it’s not just poking fun of horror movies with dick jokes. There’s even a bit of social commentary mixed in where the movie jabs pop-culture, celebrity obsession, religion, and even some of Spain’s own culture (bull fighting and Flamenco dancing). It’s why the “Wallace and Gromit” and “South Park” comparison fits and because Samuel and Rubén were able to bring in different styles, like social commentary and raunchy gags, and blend them with a horror parody concept. “Possessed” is not a movie for everyone, and definitely not a movie for younger viewers, but it’s a fun and entertaining claymated movie.