Horror Movie Review: Possession (1981)

One of the most spectacular ‘video nasties’ you’ll see, Possession is a 1981 art-house/psychological horror directed by Andrzej Żuławski. It stars Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill as a married couple with problems. Oh, so many problems.

Sam Neill plays Mark, a spy who has returned to East Berlin from a secret mission to West Berlin. Arriving home, he discovers that his wife, Anna has become cold and distant. Pushing to find out what is going on, she demands a divorce which makes him believe she is having an affair, something she denies.

For the good of their son, Bob, Mark agrees to move out and ends up at a hotel where he spends a few weeks drinking himself into oblivion.

When sense returns to him, he goes to visit Anna and finds Bob alone, dishevelled and neglected. Furious, he waits for Anna’s return and informs her that he won’t be leaving the boy with her anymore. They fight (get used to that), make-up and seem like they might be able to move forward until Anna leaves in the night.

Mark’s affair suspicions are confirmed when he receives a call from her lover, Heinrich (Heinz Bennent). Mark decides to hire a private investigator to find out where Heinrich lives by tailing Anna.

The PI follows her to an abandoned building and into her flat where he discovers some kind of alien creature living there. Shocked and disturbed, he tries to escape but is murdered by Anna.

This is where Possession actually shows it is a horror movie after a very long build-up of couple/family drama. It’s also where things take a serious turn for the weird as we are bombarded with unusual characters, scenes, plot-points and graphic gore.

Nowhere is that better exemplified when Heinrich is properly introduced or when Anna has her miscarriage in a subway. The former is one of the most joyful things to watch, a character in love with everyone but most of all himself and portrayed by an actor looking to leave his mark. Heinrich lights up the screen with his dramatic dialogue and exaggerated movements.

The latter is way more harrowing, especially as it goes on for ages and ends with blood and pus pouring from Anna’s orifices. You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from Isabelle Adjani though.

She is phenomenal through Possession, putting in what must have been an utterly exhausting shift. Although, that’s not to take anything away from Sam Neill either who is damn good as well.

Possession is a slow-burn of movie, one that spends two-thirds of its run-time detailing the characters and building towards a more horror based final third. The reveal of the creature is exciting and what follows will fill many with horrific wonder, however the focus never drifts away from Mark and Anna. This is a movie about their relationship and it just so happens to have an alien being in it.

The negatives? It can be slow in places and you can easily see where it could have had minutes shaved off its 2 hour plus runtime. Also the ending is pretty ambiguous and you’re never really given a clear picture of just what was going on. Some explanation beyond guess-work and trying to put the puzzle together without corners would be nice.

It is a marmite movie. Many will adore it, many will hate it but no-one will forget it.

  • The Final Score - 8/10
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