1981. Directed by Andrzej Zulawski.
One of the most terrifying things in the world is the death of a relationship. Many horror films often pervert this idea with a watered down approach that focuses on sex without meaning and marital disputes that are often resolved with fairy tale mechanics. Andrzej Zulawski's masterpiece Possession is a raw, physically exhausting dissection of the death of a marriage, that presents the concept of love as an alien organism, a false god that is both devoid of hope and consumed by a detached hunger for every fiber of the supplicants' being.
Mark is an espionage agent who returns to his home in Berlin where his wife, Anna, tells him that she wants a divorce, but isn't sure why. Anna then embarks on a series of sexual encounters and homicidal transgressions. Desperate to protect both Anna and their son Bob, Mark decides to cover up his wife's crimes while also fixating on her lovers, hopelessly trying to make sense of his life's destruction, leading to a revolting encounter with a creature that is all too familiar. As both lovers destroy, repair, and then obliterate their counterparts physically, sexually, and mentally, each of them must confront the truth of their circumstances and surrender to the chaos of their own designs.
Zulawski developed the script while going through a divorce. Everything about Possession is a lie. The divided Berlin setting and Mark's "spy" cover story are brilliant details that entrench the central couple in a prison of deceit. Possession is about the white lies we tell the ones we love and how they often snowball out of control at the most inopportune times. This is a film of extremes, which can either entice or repulse.
Sam Neil does a remarkably underrated role as Mark, the male participant. Violence is almost always his answer to any problem, and yet he's wounded and tender whenever his mask of machismo is stripped away. Isabelle Adjani gives the performance of a lifetime as Anna. She throws every ounce of her psyche into the role, embracing the extremities of human feeling to the point of physical torment. The amount of bodily fluid that Anna encounters and expels throughout is enough to get any horror fan going, and yet, the bold symbolism manages to stay within the established bounds of Possession's scorched earth approach to marital dysfunction. Anna is the quintessential myth of a partner: sexually liberated, ravishing, and extremely unpredictable. Both actors flay each other and themselves in white knuckled scenes of domestic violence. They wear each other's blood like medals, sigils of acceptance to what their lives have become. If the nauseous feeling that often accompanies a soul shattering break up could be bottled and sold, it would look and feel like Mark and Anna's amorous oblivion.
Bruno Nuytten's cinematography is a tabloid nightmare, stalking the character's through lonely apartments and disquieting subways, bringing the idea of inescapable sadness to life. The matrimonial turbulence is everywhere, and through deep shots of the couple's domicile and voyeuristic close ups, the viewer is given a front row seat to the emotional apocalypse. Carlo Rambaldi's creature design effects are the centerpiece of the final act, with a tentacled sex scene being both a visceral shocker and an oddly poignant statement on the monsters we make our transgressors out to be.
Available now in a stunning blu ray from Mondo Vision, Possession is a one of a kind horror film that is extremely divisive. Panned for its monotonous and its incoherent plot, it is these attributes that make Possession so important. Zulawski's vision perfectly captures the hysteric tidal wave of emotion that drowns both parties when a relationship dies. Demanding a modicum of patience for the mental acrobatics and a grounded resolve for the body horror, Possession is a remarkable horror film about the scariest thing in existence: love.
Highly. Highly Recommend.