Possession (1981)

Nastiness Rating:

Directed by: Andrzej Zulawski
Written by: Andrzej Zulawski/Frederic Tuten




It’s incredibly hard for me to figure out…well…anything about this movie. It’s among the most surreal horror films I’ve ever seen, and yet it certainly has a power over its audience.

It’s like Kramer Vs. Kramer by way of HP Lovecraft.

The most I can say about the plot without giving something away (although I don’t know how you COULD give anything away here, the thing is so freakin’ weird) is that it’s about the end of a relationship. Anna and Mark (the ageless Isabelle Adjani and a VERY young Sam Neill) are young parents at the end of their rope. It’s well past over, but they just keep torturing each other by popping back into each other’s lives.

It doesn’t help that he may or may not be a spy (something that is only mentioned at the beginning and end of the film) and she may or may not be possessed by some sort of demon (something that is alluded to throughout the film…in bloody, disgusting detail).

Anna wants out of the marriage more than Mark does. He’s still in love with her and wants to know what happened. She says that it’s not because of another man, but Mark finds out that she does have another man, a German named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent).

In the middle of everything is Bob, their young son. Honestly, he only shows up when it absolutely convenient to the plot. he’s actually completely forgotten about for long stretches at a time. They say that Anna’s hateful friend Margit (Margit Gluckmeister) is taking care of him…but she would have to be a live-in nanny to be taking care of him as much as she does. This may be absolutely deliberate, seeing as how the kids tend to be forgotten during this kind of awful break-up.

What is absolutely deliberate is the use of old Berlin as the setting. The place is falling apart and dilapidated, just like Anna and Mark’s marriage. It’s beautiful in its decrepitness.

All of this sounds pretty standard, right? A cheating wife wants out of a marriage and the man wants to hang on. Polish writer/director Andrzej Zulawski isn’t interested in telling this story in a straightforward way. No, no. He’s interested in FREAKING THE FUCK OUT OF YOU! He finds gruesome, disgusting ways to externalize the internal struggles of these two characters.

Adjani is absolutely mesmerizing in what could be a defining performance for women everywhere. It’s a pity that it’s a film that not many will take the time to see. I’ve seen her in other films where I’ve known that she was great, but this was some other level. She commits and then commits to the commitment. One scene, in particular, is a tour de force that few actresses could have handled. It takes place in a subway tunnel and…well, I can’t say a whole lot more. There’s a bit of a freak-out. And it ain’t pretty. In any way. Suffice it to say that I no longer just think of her as one of the most beautiful actresses ever. I now think of her as one of the most fearlessly talented actresses ever.

It’s no wonder that she says that she will never take another role like it and that it took her years to get over it. I’ve even read that she tried to commit suicide during filming. I’m not sure if that’s true, though.

Neill’s performance is almost as good. He’s extremely theatrical and over the top, but it all fits so well with the weirdness of the film that you just kind of get into the rhythm of it and understand exactly how amazing he is.

The two of them together equal nuclear fireworks. Their confrontations get more and more insane until violence finally breaks out. And not just a slap here and there. This is a full-on, one-sided brawl.

And then there’s Bennent. He’s just plain weird. He’s some sort of zen master who dances his lines and can beat the snot out of anyone who crosses him…but he loves everyone.

Oh yeah. And there are tentacle monsters. And lots of weird sex. And bodily fluids. Bodily fluids everywhere.

Possession is, as I said, one of the most surreal horror films I’ve ever seen. It’s also one that will stay with me forever. It’s brilliant in a way that only a small portion of the movie-going audience will be able to handle. It’s so esoteric and beyond bizarre that I’m not surprised that not very many people have ever heard of it (although at least one very popular webcomic has referenced it).

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to see this film…unless you’re into being a one-eyed, peg-legged parrot fan. The movie has been out of print for many years and Zulawski is not all that interested in making money off of it. In fact, it’s hard for theatres to get prints. The Alamo had to go to an anonymous donor who was able to find a copy somewhere. Austin is lucky enough to get three screenings of a really good uncut print.

If your mind is open and you happen to be in the right place at the right time, make haste to the theatre that is showing it. If you don’t have a strong stomach, though, you may want to stay away.

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