Possession (1981)

The Halloween Countdown (Day 29)


Possession is showing at the Prince Charles Cinema, London, on 1st November; more details here.

Polish director Andrzej Żuławski’s only English language film is a disturbing mixture of divorce drama and visceral body horror. But, if that isn’t enough, the film also has a heavy socio-political subtext, playing with elements of the spy thriller and the doppelgänger motif. Now I can only imagine how much of a mess this might sound to someone who hasn’t seen it. Yet, Possession works brilliantly and continues to be one of the most chilling, bizarre and deranged horrors to have earned the title of ‘cult classic’.

Mark (Sam Neill) is an international spy who recently returned to West Berlin to find his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) requesting a divorce. Anna, meanwhile, is being lured into a demonic affair with a tentacled monster in a derelict apartment building on the other side of town.


The genius of Possession is held in a multi-layered structure that is visually and psychologically terrifying; it’s gore and surreal horror, a mixture of Cronenberg’s The Brood and Lynch’s Eraserhead. Meanwhile, audiences interested in a relationship drama also get their wish as the film dissects the realities of divorce on a psychological level. Here, the monster reflects Anna’s psychosis. While simultaneously providing us with a projection of Mark’s inflamed consciousness. Żuławski wrote his screenplay during an excruciating divorce process from his then-wife, Polish actress Malgorzata Braunek. This mix of styles and horror subgenres, in turn, creates a unique movie-going experience, with each audience member taking something different from Possession—the post-screening drinks at the bar, a diversity of opinions and thoughts.

Possession is an utterly unique cinematic experience; every aspect of the film works together to create a perfect slice of psychological and surreal horror. But, the brilliant performances of its two leads, especially Isabelle Adjani, cement its place as an undeniable classic in every sense of the word.


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