This has to be the first time this reviewer has ever watched a film, sat back, and thought, “I have no idea how to articulate what just happened nor my thoughts about it.”
Let’s start with the basics. Possession is a 1981 horror movie starring Sam Neill (Event Horizon) and Isabelle Adjani and written and directed by Polish director Andrzej Żulawksi.
Set (and filmed) in West Berlin, Possession recounts with brutal fervour the breakdown of a marriage between Mark (Neill) and Anna (Adjani), and the mysterious influence that seems to have induced in Anna an inexhaustible hysteria.
Considering there is a run time of a little over 120 minutes the plot of Possession is deliberately oblique. Non-naturalistic dialogue confuses any attempt to follow a logical progression from scene to scene, or even within a single scene.
It’s not that the characters speak gibberish, more that the call and response of a conversation is always bent out of shape just enough as to be fundamentally disconcerting.
What Is Possession About?
For much of the first hour the disintegration of Mark and Anna’s relationship squirms away with combative scenes that fester into violence.
It’s not for nothing that director Żulawksi was going through a painful divorce when writing the movie, yet he pushes his actors to the limit of performance, even beyond.
Possession is less an ascension of events, more a descent of emotions.
‘Heightened’ doesn’t even begin to cover how Neill and Adjani are directed to perform. Żulawksi carefully ensures there are no sympathies here; as can be with real divorce, both leads exhibit self-destructive behaviour that dissolves your sympathy.
Neill is no slouch when it comes to depicting mania (John Carpenter’s 1994 movie In The Mouth of Madness is a prime example) but Adjani’s unforgettable delivery is something on a level that exists in a realm reached rarely before or after, if ever.
The pressure of the movie is certainly on Adjani. Although her character initially denies that a third party is involved in her desire to divorce, she begins to disappear for swathes of time, even leaving her and Mark’s young son alone in the apartment.
Adjani’s frantic physicality is driven to further extremes by an emotional rapture in which her expressions are like malformed deep sea creatures: unknowable even as long lost light is shined upon them.
Is Possession Worth Watching?
Seven paragraphs in and I’ve not yet mentioned ‘the creature’. Ordinarily in something even loosely associated with ‘body horror’ the emphasis would primarily be on the effects work.
Possession skews towards a Lovecraftian angle. It withholds its creation for a large chunk of time before scattering murky shots into the mix.
Amazing creature work from Carlo Rambaldi (who also designed the E.T. puppet and Alien head) defies categorisation, despite the occasionally identifiable feature like a tentacle here or glowing green eyes there.
It constitutes a sickly mass, consuming space with its inherent wrongness, with no direct explanation ever proffered for its corruptive presence.
A case could be made for the ‘creature’ being either a delusion of the protagonists or an unknowable entity or either. Or neither.
Initially dark lighting and shifting focus makes you think you aren’t seeing the creature – and the object of Anna’s obsessive affections – clearly.
Yet the more you see the less you understand. When Anna is ecstatically underneath it, all you need know is it is there.
Why do we watch horror? Heck, why do we experience cinema? For pleasure? For artistry? To feel? Possession undoubtedly ticks the last one although you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d agree on the first.
Subtext and metaphor adorn Possession like a weighted blanket: just because you can’t see what is crushing you doesn’t mean you aren’t trapped underneath it.
This makes it difficult to slap an arbitrary score on Possession.
The movie, and in particular Adjani’s infamously deranged and repulsive performance in the subway scene, is once watched, never forgotten.
Should the desire to experience this film possess you, ensure that you cling on for dear life.
Words by Mike Record
Get ready for non-stop entertainment with access to thousands of popular movies and TV shows, including award-winning Amazon Originals. Plus, enjoy the convenience of FREE One-Day Delivery on millions of items. With the ability to watch anywhere and cancel anytime, you'll never have to worry about being tied down. So why wait? – Join Now
30-day free trial available.
- Apple TV brings you the future of television, right at your fingertips. Immerse yourself in the world of laughter, inspiration, and heartwarming moments with the critically acclaimed show, Ted Lasso, and a plethora of other captivating content.
- Star studded, award winning series and films.
Amazon Prime Video
- Welcome to a world of boundless entertainment, where thrilling stories come to life at your convenience. Amazon Prime Video invites you to explore a universe of gripping narratives, including the adrenaline-pumping series, "Reacher," and an extensive selection of captivating content that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
- Additional benefits of Prime Membership: Music Streaming Service, Amazon Photos and Exclusive Offers
- Delve into a world of original storytelling, where Disney's creativity knows no bounds. With Disney+ Originals like "The Mandalorian," "WandaVision," and "Loki," you'll witness new narratives and characters that expand the enchanting tapestry of the Disney universe.
- Great collection of Kids series and movies.