REASON: Mark and Anna’s marriage crumbles, leading to a series of intense arguments, gross body horror, brutal murder, and possibly an apocalyptic scenario.
REVIEW: Director Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 horror film Possession was never a film destined to be embraced by mainstream audiences, but there has always been an audience out there for the film – it just had a hard time reaching the viewers who would get the most out of seeing it. In the UK, the film was banned as an obscene video. For the US release, 40 minutes were cut from its 124 minute running time. Home video releases have come and then gone out of print, and the DVDs and Blu-rays going for prices that some collectors probably aren’t willing to pay for something they aren’t familiar with. But now Possession streaming on Creepy servicewhich may be the film’s best chance yet to reach viewers who are going to be blown away by it.
Żuławski came up with the story Possession, which he then filled in for a script with Frederic Tuten, when he was going through a very dark and depressing time in his life. His marriage ended in a devastating divorce, and soon after he was driven out of his native Poland because the communist government did not approve of his efforts to make films. He had lost his wife, he was a man without a country. He considered suicide – but instead chose to purge all the dark emotions he felt by making a new film. It was that movie Possession. A raw nerve of a film that clearly comes across that the director was dealing with some problems.
Much of the film plays out as an intense divorce drama. Field (Sam Neill) works as an international spy, a job that keeps him away from home for long periods. When he returns from being away for a while, he discovers that his home life with his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and their young son Bob (Michael Hogben) have completely fallen apart. Anna wants a divorce, she has found someone else. So now the couple must figure out how to move forward. Who will get custody of Bob, how will visitation be, who will get their apartment. But whenever they’re in the same room with each other, their interactions devolve into screaming matches complete with broken furniture, physical altercations, and even self-harm with an electric carving knife.
At first, Mark is led to believe that Anna is leaving him for Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), a man who is all for peace and love, but is also capable of busting out some good fighting moves if Mark tries to get rough with him . But the fact is that Anna has been unfaithful to both Mark and Heinrich. There’s a third lover in the mix… and Mark’s quest to find out who that lover is takes the film down a path that leads deep into gritty horror territory. The fact that the film is on Shudder and has a credit that reads “Special Effects for the Creature by Carlo Rambaldi” makes it obvious that this isn’t just the divorce drama it first appears to be … and in in the second half of the run time, the viewer witnesses some truly disgusting sights, bloody murders and some very bizarre scenarios. There are even gunshots and explosions. You probably won’t understand what the hell is going on, but it’s quite a ride.
Possession is confusing, but it’s also incredibly well crafted. The filmography of Bruno Nuytten is wonderful to look at, even when there is something disgusting on the screen. The film is also benefiting from its locations. It was shot in Berlin in the middle of the Cold War and is peppered with images of the Berlin Wall. Żuławski chose this city simply because it was the closest he could get to making the film in the communist world that had thrown him out, but that adds greatly to the overall effectiveness.
The film is truly carried on the shoulders of Neill and Adjani, both of whom delivered awe-inspiring performances that understandably wore them down emotionally. As confusing as the film gets, Neill and Adjani are both captivating to watch as they get through some very extreme and weird scenes. At one point, Adjani was tasked with acting out a literal miscarriage of Faith, and it turned out to be one of the film’s most talked about, memorable, standout scenes. The actress has said it took her years to shake off the role of Anna, which earned her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival and the César Awards (the French version of the Academy Awards). Those awards were well-deserved, as Adjani impresses in both the loud, flashy scenes, but can also break your heart with just a look and a change of expression.
So it is highly recommended that you give Possession a chance while streaming on Shudder. Check out this horror film that deserves to be seen by many more genre fans than have had the opportunity to see it up to this point. I first saw the movie ten years ago (I even wrote one blog article about what was shared on Twitter by Sam Neill himself, so it was a proud moment) and it has stuck with me ever since.