Gellar + Asian Horror Remake; Rinse, Repeat.

Directed by: Joel Bergvall & Simon Sandquist, Runtime: 85min
Grade: D+

Somewhere down the line, between her career-defining role in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and as a nails-against-a-chalkboard princess in I Know What You Did Last Summer, Sarah Michelle Gellar received something of a label as a go-to actress in the horror genre. Her lingering charisma from Buffy's heyday seems to be the only driving force now, because the actual performances she's offered since haven't been encouraging; from her wide-eyed empty disposition in The Grudge to a workable but undistinguished performance in the middling downer The Return, she's been fairly forgettable in the subsequent roles following her iconic '90s offerings. Now she's popped up in Possession, another moody part-supernatural suspense from "the executive producers of" a full slate of Asian horror remakes (The Ring, Shutter, Dark Water), which again leaves her blandly weaving between knee-jerk twists and turns in a poorly executed thriller.

And again, Possession adapts a superior source -- Addicted, from Korean director Park Young-hoon -- and sucks the subtlety right out. It follows along with similar talking points: two brothers, one a tattooed wild child named Roman (Lee Pace) who's fresh out of jail and the other a down-to-earth charmer named Ryan (Michael Landes), are both knocked into a coma following a car wreck on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Not one where they're in the same vehicle, mind you, but one where they collide into each other in a far-fetched twist of fate. Ryan's career-oriented wife, Jess (Gellar), apparently has a history with both men, indicated by a bloated, bleak talk between her and Roman before the crash; this makes it a little uncomfortable when Roman wakes up from the coma believing he's actually Ryan -- Ryan v2.0. Of course, Jess is a wee bit skeptical of diving back into her old life with, well, a possessed version of her husband.

From the get-go, the depthless characters collapse what investment could be had in Possession. Roman's a one-dimensional derelict who hits the bullet-points of rebellion almost to a fault -- slapping women he sleeps with, smoking where he shouldn't, speeding around in a muscle car and looking ever-so-tough through sharp glances and overexposed tattoos. He reminds me a bit of Jim Carrey's "alter-ego" in The Number 23, if that gives any indication of the bluntness of Lee Pace's thug. It's a shame, because Pace's offerings in "Pushing Daisies" and, especially, The Fall rustled up a bit of excitement in seeing him in something this different. Conversely, Ryan's little more than the simple portrait of Prince Charming, complete with fawning affection and a desire for kids, while Gellar's Jess, a surface-scraping professional uninterested in having children at the time, is ... well, she's just kind of there, undefined and looking as listlessly annoyed as I was watching.

Chemistry-free interactions between the characters lead into the core of Possession, and the one-two punch of apathy for Roman, Ryan, Ryan v2.0 and Jess and the plot's ridiculousness leave this one dead on arrival. Fan of bizarreness or not, the plot hinges on an implausible, unexplained concept -- the exchange of consciousnesses through a violent clash -- and never really sells the experience enough to deflate the red-flagged questions that it lifts. It cherry-picks elements to mimic, like the out-of-body uneasiness from Jerry Zucker's Ghost tossed around with flickers of the mind-rattling chaos from Alejandro Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos, and attempts to create a mystery of love that, presumably, we're supposed to care about until the obscurity arrives at an answer-worthy twist.

A gritty visual style, decent but familiar, and an eye for quick-shot editing tries to gussy Possession up enough to spark a few chills, but ultimately it's pretty clear that they're little more than parlor tricks to try and distract from a lack of intrigue. A lot of visual cues are scattered throughout the picture, but they're uncontrolled and without much backing; this includes time-lapsed shots of flowers and trees freezing and molting, computer-generated shots through fog around the Golden Gate bridge, a fairly impressive transition between a broken picture frame to a car wreck, and an overall slick eye for moody lighting in every exterior within Ryan and Jess' house. In another setting -- perhaps, in another of many Asian ghost story remakes -- these elements would've been welcome additions. Here, they're little more than trestles propping up a rickety, malnourished story with weak characters, thrashing about until the conclusion.

Possession does conclude, thankfully, after sprinting as far as Sarah Michelle Gellar and Lee Pace's legs can take us, simmering to a finale that's, to be frank, overdone and foreseeable from several yards out. The two leads do still manage to lug along enough dramatic integrity to make the swirling speculation around Ryan v2.0's Possession mildly intriguing, even slathering on a thin layer of second-guessing in our minds about his condition. Lee Pace's natural charisma and apt ability lend more credence than the flick deserves as it spirals downward into inescapable territory, a place void of the macabre. There are no ghosts, no ghouls, no spirits or anything tremble-worthy here, contrary to the promotional artwork. It's a metaphysical thriller filled with straight-faced, transparent bluntness and nothing all that mindfully challenging, which hollows it of much of its draw.


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