Released back in 1981, Possession caused quite a stir. It was full of strong content, both sexual and violent, and filtered through an artistic filter that surely made it fall between the two stools of genre-pleasing horror and intellectual art installation.
Directed (and written, with some help from Frederic Tuten) by Andrzej Zulawski, the movie focuses on the break up between Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill) and how that affects both of them. It seems to affect both of them by making them act insane, shout a lot and harm each other and those around them. It’s not long before things disintegrate so much that the viewer can only hope for the couple to remain apart as they seem to be simply damaging each other. But as Mark strives to find answers about a woman he suddenly feels he doesn’t know things take a turn for the sinister and horrifying.
My initial reaction to Possession, as the end credits rolled, was that I had just watched an annoying, painfully overacted, pretentious movie crammed full of pseudo-psychological babble and unguided histrionics.
Then the movie began to sink more deeply into my mind over the next few minutes. Things began to tick over and I began giving the movie the consideration and respect it deserved. The two central performances are actually excellent. Isabelle Adjani is a bit too over the top for my tastes (though others disagree, such as those who gave her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film festival) but there’s no denying what she’s given to the role and the bravery with which she lets herself go completely. Sam Neill doesn’t have to shout and twitch quite so much but his performance is even better, veering between the manic and the coldly rational, the uncaring and the heartbroken and many other emotional states in between. Margit Carstensen and Heinz Bennent have the other two sizeable roles and do just fine (though Bennent provokes some unintentional laughs in places, perhaps that just shows up my uncultured sensibilities).
Zulawski is uncompromising with his vision and the movie remains a very unique experience, comparable to some Clive Barker piece filtered through the camera lens of Nicolas Roeg. There are moments here that will either turn off viewers with the ridiculousness of it all or turn off viewers with the nasty connotations but those who stick with it are ultimately rewarded with a smart pay-off.
A victim of the Video Nasty scandal of the early 80s, there’s no way that Possession belongs among the other straight horror titles there but there are a few “highlights” for horror fans on display (mainly thanks to the work of Carlo Rambaldi – arguably most famous for his work on E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Alien). Anyone after some standard Video Nasty thrills, however, should look elsewhere. Possession is a dark and disturbing, equally passionate and yet coldly clinical, thriller that should be enjoyed by those who rated the similar Antichrist. Some view it as a horror movie, some surely view it as a disturbed character study and others view it as a political metaphor but, however you view it, just give it your time. You may not think you’re enjoying it but that could all change at the end of the movie.
The DVD, released for the first time here in the UK on 25/10/10 is a decent affair indeed for fans of the movie. “The Other Side Of The Wall – The Making Of Possession” is, as it says, a piece all about the making of the movie that runs to just over 50 minutes in length (almost half the running time of the movie itself). Then you also get an interview with Andrzej Zulawski that runs for approximately 36 minutes. There is some crossover in the material but it’s all fascinating stuff and invaluable to anyone picking apart the movie and exploring the different themes and the choices made throughout.
For those wanting a series of Kodak moments there’s also a photo gallery. All in all, Second Sight have presented a nice selection of quality over quantity to accompany a film which looks to have been treated with some TLC while being converted on to shiny disc. It may be something you want to possess soon.
DIRECTOR: ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI
CAST: ISABELLE ADJANI, SAM NEILL
RUNTIME: 119 MINUTES APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE/WEST GERMANY
WIN DVDS OF POSSESSION HERE