- Sam Neill as Mark
- Isabelle Adjani as Anna/Helen
Possession has to rank as one of the most disturbing and unusual films out there that I’ve ever seen. A blend of drama and horror, that plays out the disintegrating marriage of a couple with monstrous intent and cloaks of ambiguity, it’s a movie that you won’t forget in a hurry because if the sheer strangeness and horrifying vision at play.
A man named Mark returns to his home in Berlin to see his wife Anna and young son Bob, from a secretive job abroad. Yet nothing can prepare him for what greets him. Anna wants to leave him and quickly becomes hysterical when he tries to question her. Their relationship soon descends into screaming attacks, violence and even bouts of self-mutilation. Also adding to frustration and worrying decline of Mark is the fact that Anna disappears for long times and when she returns home is vague about her whereabouts. Mark continues to grow more worryingly obsessed by Anna and she grows more unpredictable, raging and secretive. He also glimpses a Helen, a schoolteacher for his son who bears a striking resemblance to his wife, but because he is so besotted and slowly slipping into mania, he focuses on his unusual wife. Deducing that she has been having an affair with a smarmy and flamboyant man called Heinrich. Mark takes it upon himself to get answers about his estranged wife and confronts the man, who it turns out hasn’t seen Anna for a long time. Yet what Anna is hiding from Mark is much more twisted and horrifying than anyone could have possibly imagined or fathomed: a tentacled creature that she literally kills for, makes love to and hides away in a squalid apartment. It’s safe to say that obsession, murder and violence explode with hysteria for both Mark and Anna as their relationship is laid bare.
Andrzej Żuławski masterfully constructs this horror/drama with intensity, verve and something quite personal. Some will say that the premise sounds ridiculous, but Żuławski sidesteps this by rooting the majority of the film in the shocking and crumbling relationship of the real world. Emotions are ramped up to eleven between the two main characters and madness ensues as the relationship becomes a brutal war of unpredictability and unfurling horror. The symbolism of doubles and divides is very apparent in Possession; from Anna’s doppelgänger to the Berlin Wall as a backdrop frequently seen, these things burrow into the mind with their well-executed traits. Possession succeeds through its use of ambiguity that never give the audience an easy answer, opening it up to endless possibilities and opinions. Is what we see purely Mark’s interpretation of Anna? Is the monster a symbol for Anna’s self-destructiveness or their failing relationship? These questions only give more life and mystery to the film which is anything but traditional or orthodox. One word of advice when viewing Possession, don’t eat while watching it as there are numerous scenes that will make your stomach turn and induce queasiness. Chief among these scenes and one that is particularly difficult to watch is Anna’s breakdown in the subway. Convulsing violently for what seems like an eternity before bleeding profusely, it’s a horrifying scene for what is shown and the fierce commitment of Isabelle Adjani to the part. Possession isn’t a film for every taste out there, but for those blessed with strong stomachs up for a challenge this is a film to watch. An oppressive and grey cinematography is exemplary at backing up the grim nature of the relationship shown and envelops the experience in gloomy colours. A sparse but creepy score helps add tension and animosity to the film, mirroring the destructive union that is torn apart in disturbing fashion.
Sam Neill is marvellously cast as the obsessed Mark, whose mental faculties slowly fall into decline at his wife’s rejection. Neill portrays the descent into madness with shocking assurance and creepiness. Yet for my money, I can’t quite recall seeing a performance in recent memory of such raw power and volcanic emotion as the one from Isabelle Adjani here. She gives her body and soul to the role of Anna and colours it in manic fury and unbridled ferocity. Even when she’s still, Adjani’s eyes are filled with such terrifying intensity that it’s difficult to look away. Many actresses can play frightening and unusual well, but Adjani seems to genuinely live it crafting a performance of self-destructive craziness, terrifying eruptions of rage and an oddly alluring surface. Both actors are fantastic in their difficult roles, but for me Adjani edges it with a thoroughly committed performance.
A surreal and extremely stomach churning movie, Possession won’t provide comfortable cosy viewing, but it will imprint itself on you with its disquieting story and ferocious performances.