Cult Horror Corner: Possession
Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession may hold the award for most intense horror film ever made. Never before has a film featured so much screaming, self mutilation and sheer anger as this 1981 European shocker. That is, if you can even call it a horror. It’s incredibly difficult to even label Possession, as it is simply so out there in its audacity and sense of the bizarre that you come away not entirely sure what you’ve seen. Possession weaves together the characteristics of three cinematic auteurs; the nightmarish world underneath suburbia of classic David Lynch, the gruesome body horror of David Cronenberg, and the low key realism of Lars Von Trier.
Possession’s story, if you can call it that, follows secret agent Mark (Sam Neill), who returns home from an abroad mission to find his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) wants a divorce. From there, the film plunges downwards into a psychotic, hypnotic, brutal film about any number of subject matter; female empowerment, self hatred, the bitterness of separation. The film is not concerned with plot, but madness; from its starting point, Possession veers so far off course that by the end, you wonder what you’ve seen. Apart from such abstract films as Eraserhead, it is very difficult to recall a cinematic experience so close to a living, breathing nightmare.
The acting, to fit with the nastiness of the script, is astonishing. Sam Neill may be slightly overbearing at times, but considering what his character goes through, all can be forgiven. However, Adjani, as the suffering, maniacal Anna, gives one of the most outstanding performances not just in a horror film, but in any film full stop. Never before has an actress gone through so much for a role (some of the scenes she was required to perform make Shelley Duvall in The Shining look positively pleasant), and the film is carried by her astonishing role. The infamous scene in an underground station, in which she appears to go mad before something incredibly unsettling occurs, is quite simply superlative, and one of the wildest, most unexplainable scenes in history.
While the film has astonishing moments, and the direction by Zulawski is utterly terrific (it is fair to say it takes a female to create the best feminist horror), it is also one hard to really recommend or enjoy. Much like how David Lynch’s back catalogue is filled with dense, confusing horror, so Possession’s flaws is also its recommendation. It is almost impossibly to understand; all semblance of normality slowly drains away to leave the audience with a sexually traumatising, logically warped tale of a woman going mad, and a husband’s lack of understanding. In many ways, Possession is a masterpiece of Euro-horror, with astounding performances; in others, Possession is one of the most unpleasant, confusing and intense films ever put to screen.
By Harry Ford