Mark (Sam Neil) is a secret agent man whose back home in Poland and looking to restore his relationship with his estranged wife Anna (Isabelle Adajani). He soon finds out that his wife has left him for another lover, and Mark is left trying to find out who Ann’s secret lover is and what exactly is happening to her. The layers of the story of Possession begin to peel away as it progresses, and what starts as an emotionally devastating story about a young couple falling apart takes a sharp left turn into something else entirely.
If you’ve never experienced Possession before, I recommend you stop reading here and find a way to do so. Possession is featured on rotation on TCM Underground, so that’s a good place to keep a lookout for it, and is where I first encountered Possession. Something about this stuck with me five years after watching it, and I finally broke down and bought the collectors edition blu-ray from Mondo Vision.
What makes Possession such an unnerving experience is how overblown the acting is, especially from Adajani, who fully throws herself into the role. Seriously, this movie wouldn’t be the same without her gonzo acting. It can be overblown at times, such as a five minute long scene where she freaks out in the subway. However, the payoff of the scene is totally worth it. Possession would be a lesser film without her.
To an extent, Possession largely relies on Adajani’s shoulders. In addition to the demands of playing Helen, she gets to play the more normal school teacher Helen. Mark meets Helen when he picks up Bob from school shortly after Anna has left him, and feels a trick is being played on him. He begins a romance with her to fill the void left by his wife, which helps pacify him for a bit. This dual role shows how much range Adajani has an actress as the two characters are miles apart from each other in temperament and in terms of being well adjusted.
Sam Neil is no stranger to playing off the wall parts, and Mark is the perfect role for him to play. He goes through a lot of violent extremes as his quest to fix his marriage leads him from tearing up a restaurant to eventually becoming an accomplice in his wife’s psychosis. When he finds out the depths his wife has sunk too, it seems to make him fall in love that much more. The oddness of this character is something that Neil conveys perfectly to the viewer.
The film is shot by Zulawski in a very confrontational manner, almost as though we were watching a documentary rather than a horror film. The camera moves as though it were caught up in the madness and longing the characters have for each other in their messed up love triangle. To make the asthetic of Possession even more bizarre, there is one scene where Adajani seems to deliver a nonsensical monologue to the audience directly.
Then there is the late Heinz Bennent as Heinrich, the most polarizing character in the film. Heinrich is Helen’s former lover. The pathology of the character is something to behold, because we should hate him for breaking up this marriage, but he seems to on some level be the most reasonable person in the entire film. It doesn’t help that he’s actually affable towards Mark and feels bad about hurting him, but he also seems to genuinely love Anna. The two both claim “possession” over her, but find out that they are ill-suited for what’s to come. Heinrich’s oddness provides almost a bit of comic relief in what is otherwise a film that can be a bit overbearing and nauseating.
Possession isn’t a film that is for everyone. It’s a strange film that seems to be an independent drama masquerading as a horror film (or perhaps vice-versa). The direction and acting lead to an unnerving experience that seems to culminate with the characters triggering an apocalyptic event. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and I love it.
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