Possession (1981) Review

ima444gesAndrzej Zulawski’s art house horror movie Possession is notable for many reasons but primarily because it shares the twin badges of honor of not only winning its lead Isabelle Adjani the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival but also making it onto the Video Nasties list here in the U.K.

Although these two things may seem incongruous let us not forget movies such as Battleship Potemkin, Marlon Brando’s The Wild One, Reservoir Dogs and Cronenberg’s Crash all very critical acclaimed and highly praised yet all falling foul of the censors for a variety of reasons at some point.

Opening as it does with the return of spy Mark (Hollywood star Sam Neill) to his family home in a Cold War ridden Berlin where his wife Anna (famous French femme Isabelle Adjani) demands a divorce, you would be hard pushed at first to see why Possession caused so much controversy let alone why it is classed as a horror.


However as the film progresses the verbal disputes move to physical violence, self-mutilation, sexual perversion, strange characters crawling out of the wood work and as a nightmarish creature starts to dominate their lives Mark and Anna’s extremely destructive relationship drives them both to murder and madness.images5435345

Throwing the audience straight in to the middle of this broken relationship which is causing harm not only to the couple physically, emotionally and psychologically but also to their young son, Zulawski brilliantly blends a realistic relationship drama with a nightmarish decent into supernatural horror and shocking gore.

Amazingly shot Possession takes place in various urban environments all seemingly derelict or decaying as if the landscape itself where falling apart as rapidly and grotesquely as the lovers doomed yet addictive relationship.

Possession is full to the brim of themes and symbolism taking in religion, ethics, sexuality, the corrupt and confusing politics of an 80’s Cold War world and the human need for companionship to qualify one’s own existence.

Central to everything is the idea of the self and the other making Possession akin to the excellent and extreme body horror of Cronenberg found in such features as Dead Ringers and Videodrome.


In Possession the idea of the double or more correctly the doppelganger as German’s would call it, is ever present with Anna literally having a double in the form of their sons teacher and Mark obsessed with being replaced by Anna’s new lover which turns out to be a hideous inhuman being brilliantly brought to life by special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi who worked on E.T and Alien.

Possession Possession

Driving the film forward is the twin powerhouse performances from Neil and Adjani who throw themselves completely into the immensely demanding roles giving riveting and intense performances which vary from tender and touching to terrifying and disturbing.

Released by Second Sight on a sensational Blu-Ray packed with extras including features, interviews and commentary from Zulawski himself Possession manages to merge drama and horror, suspense and gore, reality and nightmares into a dark and unsettling tale of love and hate and the destructive forces they unleash on us all.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ½ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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