Possession (1981)


Possession 
 (1981, French/West German)
We are all the same. Different words, different bodies, different versions. Like insects! Meat!” –Anna
Attention fans of the weird, esoteric art house thrillers of David Lynch, and the bizarre, visceral body horror films of David Cronenberg: have I got a movie for YOU!
Clocking in at just over 2 hours, the original director’s cut of “Possession”,
consternated American distributors who bought the rights, that they cut it…by 45 minutes. No joke. Their 85 minute version proved less than impressive, and was confusing as hell to audiences, who probably felt screwed-over. Who could blame them- they were missing 45 minutes of the movie!
The plot: Sam Neill portrays a secret agent named Mark, who’s been working for the West German government. He’s just come off a long mission away from his wife Anna (played by Isabelle Adjani) and his young son, Bob. He refuses a new assignment, because he wants to be with his family. He’s trying to better himself, and his relationships.
Mark comes home to find Anna strangely distant. When they try to reconnect in the bedroom, something isn’t right, and Mark immediately suspects she may be cheating on him. Well, it turns out he’s right. She has, indeed, been cheating, with a sexually liberated German fellow named Heinrich.
After several devastating verbal, mental, and physical confrontations, Anna leaves Mark, who obsessively tries to find her and get her back. When confronted by Mark, Heinrich claims he has no clue where Anna is. In fact, Heinrich is deeply upset because he’s convinced that she’s been cheating on him, too.
Desperate to know Anna’s whereabouts, Mark hires a private detective to locate her. The detective tracks Anna to a rundown apartment building, and upon investigating her grimy, David Fincher-esque dwelling, he finds something he definitely didn’t expect. We, the audience, don’t expect it, either. Up to this point, the horrors in “Possession” have been purely domestic, composed of real world brutalities inherent in extremely toxic relationships. At this point in the movie, “Possession” takes things up a rather big notch. If you are curious, and don’t mind having this particular plot twist revealed (don’t worry, I’ll leave plenty unmentioned), read away. Those who haven’t seen this movie and want to be surprised, please be advised… ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
SPOILER ALERT!
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In one of the dimly lit rooms, the detective finds Anna’s newest lover, which is a gooey, tentacled, almost Lovecraftian thing. It’s not exactly human, but if it’s an animal, it’s impossible to define. It’s a weird, unsettling unknown that vaguely resembles a human being. And things just get more and more bizarre from there…
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END OF SPOILER
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Without giving anything else concrete away, “Possession” is a rather slow burner that reminds one of Takashi Miike’s modern horror classic “Audition” in its structure; Both begin as domestic dramas. Then, they both unexpectedly transform into something like a particularly bad dream.
What to expect? “Possession” is a twisted spiral of sex, nihilistic brutality, black-as-midnight humor, madness, murder, and surrealism. It sports viscerally creepy creature and makeup effects by Carlo Rambaldi, atmospheric cinematography by Bruno Nuytter, great direction and co-writing by Andrzej Zulawski, and tremendously raw
and effective performances all around, especially by Isabelle Adjani. Incidentally, Isabelle Adjani has an extremely unsettling scene in a subway station, in which she reportedly had a real mental breakdown while it was being filmed. Honestly, I can believe it. In terms of psychotic freak-outs, Adjani outdoes Nic Cage here.
This is not your typical horror flick, as a whole, its meaning is left up to the viewer to decide. What is all the weirdness in “Possession” about? Personally, I see it as an allegory of relationships gone wrong; just as relationships can transform from loving and nurturing to vicious and destructive, so do the characters in this movie. In addition, there are many elements of Jekyll and Hyde duality in this film. For example, Mark eventually has an affair with Bob’s schoolteacher, who looks eerily like his estranged wife, Anna. But where Anna is absent, neglectful, and selfish, Bob’s teacher is present, nurturing, and caring.
I think another major theme of this movie is that human beings are, by nature, complicated and internally conflicted: Mark loves Anna, but also deeply hates her for her infidelity. Anna seems to hate herself for her betrayal of Mark and her neglect of their son, but cannot bring herself to end her affair, because, presumably, it is the only real joy she has left. Eventually, both Mark and Anna resort to corruption and murder to keep their relationship alive. Having seen the gruesome and nightmarish finale of this movie, I think they should have just let their marriage die.

If you like your horror to be intellectually and artistically interesting without skimping on the blood and discomforting weirdness, and don’t mind disturbing movies (cuz trust me, this one is a real downer) check it out! Although currently out of print, Anchor Bay released “Possession” several times on VHS and DVD. Also, a Region 0 release from South Korea can be found on Ebay. Find it here: Amazon. Also, if you enjoyed this review, swing over to Neo Trash Video and delight in all things Horror, B-Movie and Underground Cinema.



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