Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill
Runtime: 120 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, arguably one of the best horror movies ever made, is a cult classic that has divided audiences. There are a lot of people who think it’s a masterpiece, in a league of its own and completely unparalleled. Others think it’s a heap of trash. It really is easy to go either way, though Possessionis one of those few films that has flaws that are not only easy to overlook, but fun and wonderful to acknowledge. The minor flaws in this film – and I consider them quite minor – only add to its effect, one of dazing strangeness and unforgettable mania.
Possession is the story of Anna and Mark (Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill), a married couple whose relationship is gradually falling apart to due the various mental issues of both of them. Mark is deeply attached and almost obsessed with his wife, and begs and pleads for her love after she admits she no longer cares for him. She tells him she has a new lover, and it is at this point that the film which so far seems to be little more than just a basic domestic drama, turns into something different entirely. Both Mark and Anna gradually become more and more unhinged, and their meetings turn into screaming matches. Mark flips tables and throws chairs in one scene, his agitation overcoming him.
But Mark’s loss of control is nothing compared to Anna’s absolute insanity and pure mental hysteria. In a performance reminiscent of Shelley Duvall in The Shining and Harriet Andersson in Through a Glass, Darkly, she completely changes her emotional presence and form, becoming a mad, raving lunatic overcome by screaming fits and babbling feverish disorder. One scene in particular will stay with me forever. Anna, pregnant with an ambiguous creation that may or may not be human, breaks down in a subway station, vomiting a mixture of oozy white liquid and blood, screaming and flailing her entire body around menacingly, giving birth to her nightmarish alien monstrosity. It is a sequence unlike anything I have ever seen in its sheer length and loss of control. I don’t know how Adjani acted this scene as well as she did; it’s wild.
Possession is a great film but one that suffers from the curse of unavailability. Cursed as a “video nasty” at the time of its release, it has become a lost cult classic, often judged harshly for its content and rarely acclaimed as the masterpiece it is. The film is messy and monstrous. It invades the viewer’s mind and bangs cymbals together inside their brain. It is very difficult to watch, at times completely senseless and often seriously off-putting. But it is a work of genius, and because it’s so difficult to find, its mysteries are even more enigmatic. The full-length director’s cut, which I saw just today, is obviously the defining and most important version of the film, and the one wherein its true madness can be appreciated for its sheer scale and scope.
It is one of those “things” that are becoming increasingly more difficult to come across: a really, genuinely scary horror film that hasn’t been exploited or parodied a million times over in pop culture. To many it is still a mystery, unlike more popular horror films, the details of which many people know well enough without even having seen the movie. The best way to look at Possession is by treating it as a mystery. Go in knowing as little as possible. Watch the completely stunning degradation and horror that unfolds on screen, and judge this movie for yourself. I consider it a horror masterpiece; few films are like this. Though often cited as having bad acting, particularly from Neill, I think this is intentional and really only adds to the already layered weirdness and off-kilter tone of the movie all throughout. I think the actors really give everything for this movie, and it pays off in spades. Possession is cruelly underseen and surprisingly undervalued. It deserves mention among Psycho, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one of the best horror movies of all time.