Blu-ray Review: Possession (1981)

Possession BR CoverDistributor: Second Sight Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent, Shaun Lawton

Originally banned in the UK as part of the video nasties furore of the early 1980s, director Andrzej Zulawski’s controversial cult classic Possession made it to Blu-ray thanks to Second Sight Films, and despite the Satanic implications of the title this is no Exorcist clone, although it does share a few of that film’s more cinematic qualities.

After being given the news that his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani – Nosferatu the Vampyre) wants a divorce, Marc (Sam Neill – Jurassic Park/Dead Calm) obsessively begins looking for the reasons why and discovers that Anna has been seeing another man, despite insisting that that isn’t the reason. After confronting Anna’s lover Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), Marc discovers that she may have another lover as Heinrich claims he hasn’t seen her for a while and so hires a private detective to follow her, which leads to the discovery of Anna’s bizarre secret and a series of strange events that will push Marc’s emotions to the very edge.

A concise plot summary for what is actually a twisted (in both senses) journey through a married couple’s emotional turmoil and damaged psyche, Possession is one of those strange and surreal films that doesn’t neatly slot into the box marked ‘horror’ and is all the better for it. Highly original, Possession does share many similar qualities to other high-concept films like The Brood, Antichrist and The Exorcist, but transcends the horror genre once you look at the film as a piece of expressionist art from a director who wasn’t a stranger to having his work censored or banned. As with David Cronenberg during filming of The Brood, Andrzej Zulawski was going through a divorce when making Possession and all the strain and emotional turmoil that comes with the breakup of a marriage is there to see on the screen as Anna and Marc try to come to terms with their situation, and the combination of Zulawski’s busy direction and the performances from the two leads perfectly captures the sense of madness and the irrational that occurs once a relationship is doomed.

Isabelle Adjani gives a captivating performance as Anna, so much so that she won the Best Actress award at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and the César Award for Best Actress, and her key scene is one that evokes both terror and pity in a similar way to Regan’s plight in The Exorcist, although as with most things in this film it is allegorical and not meant to be taken literally. Sam Neill also gives something of a powerful performance, playing it deliberately over-the-top and unhinged as Marc, his mental breakdown as compelling as Anna’s.

But for all of its impressive cinematography, odd camera angles and intense performances the fact remains that Possession is a very difficult film to recommend to somebody who isn’t fully prepared to take it as metaphor and read into the subtext and symbolism that Andrzej Zulawski has peppered throughout. Yes, there is a creature in it but the creature isn’t the threat and is merely there to act as a physical representation of Anna’s emotions and not an antagonist in the same way as a conventional movie monster. There’s seduction and sex but none of it is titillating and some of the dialogue is way too out there to be taken literally – the scenes involving Marc and Heinrich are too ludicrous and theatrical to be taken totally seriously – but there is an uncomfortable and underlying threat of danger in each and every scene that is as compelling as any conventional narrative.

Second Sight have also bundled together some juicy extras to get your teeth into, including commentaries from director Andrzej Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, a making-of documentary, an interview with Andrzej Zulawski, a comparison between the original 1981 director’s cut and the 1983 US re-cut version, interviews with composer Andrzej Korzynski and producer Christian Ferry, a featurette about poster artist Basha and a theatrical trailer. The image quality of the film is excellent, with all the outdoor shots looking particularly clear and colourful, but the greys and blues of the interiors all add the right level of coldness and, despite a couple of minor contrast clashes, the film looks very impressive.

Overall, Possession is a unique and difficult viewing experience but one that anybody with an interest in proper cinema should appreciate. Unlike many of today’s quick-fix and workmanlike ‘horror’ films, Possession is a steadily crafted work of art that, if it were a painting, would be framed and mounted on a wall in a gallery for everyone to ponder over and draw their own conclusions as to its meaning. Instead, you’ll have to buy this wonderful Blu-ray package and work that out for yourself but, as previously stated, anybody going into this expecting a straightforward haunting or possession movie may get the shock of their lives.


Special Features: The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession documentary, audio commentary with director Andrzej Zulawski, audio commentary with co-writer Frederic Tuten, Andrzej Zulawski interview, Repossessed featurette, A Divided City featurette, The Sounds of Possession interview with composer Andrzej Korzynski, Our Friend in the West interview with legendary producer Christian Ferry, Basha featurette, theatrical trailer.

UK Release Date: 29th July 2013

Second Sight Films – Website


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