Possession (1981) Review



Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Sex scenes
Isabelle Adjani as Anna/Helen
Sam Neill as Mark
Director: Andrzej Żuławski

Mark’s wife Anna asks him for a divorce but he suspects that she is having an affair and hires a private investigator. Meanwhile, he begins an affair with his son’s teacher who is Anna’s lookalike.

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I have been hearing about Possession for a little while, all I really knew about it going in was that it was a strange horror movie and that Sam Neill was one of the main actors. I went into it fairly blind, and I really wasn’t prepared for how great it was.


It is actually pretty hard to describe Possession. Essentially, the setup is that a woman starts behaving increasingly unhinged after asking her husband for a divorce, however, there might be something more going on behind the scenes. That’s as far as I’m willing to talk about the plot. Unsurprisingly this is a movie about divorce and it portrays quite possibly the messiest divorce of all time. Apparently, this was based on the director’s own experience of divorce and you really feel that, he clearly put all of his emotions and feelings from that into the movie. It starts out as a melodrama about marriage falling apart, but takes a startling turn to psychological horror. It’s a weird pairing of body horror and metaphorical marriage drama, and almost plays like a David Cronenberg movie at times (who also had his own horror divorce movie with The Brood). It’s a very weird and unconventional movie, so I’m not sure that everyone would be into it. It’s a haunting, disturbing and heavy story, yet I couldn’t look away at any point. Possession has a lot to say, its very layered and there’s a lot of ambiguity and metaphors. By the end it leaves you with many questions and requires you to interpret much of what happened, but in a good way. 


While the performances are generally good, it really comes down to the excellent leads in Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Neill gives possibly his best performance as a spy who discovers that his wife wants a divorce. But of course the highlight is Adjani as his wife, an absolutely unhinged, over the top performance which can be melodramatic, yet works perfectly for this movie. She conveys so much emotion, anxiety and a sense of dread; there’s a lot of intensity and emotion whenever she’s on screen. Possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen. Neill and Adjani throw themselves into their characters and are fantastic, with such uncomfortable convincing and angry chemistry between the two.


Andrzej Żuławski directs this and his work here is stellar. There’s always an unsettling feeling and atmosphere which only increases as the movie progresses. The visuals are haunting, and while the cinematography isn’t the prettiest and looks washed out and clinical, it fits the tone of the movie. It’s a very immersive movie, helped by the unnerving and swooping camera shots. There are also many scenes which convey the borderline insanity of Isabelle Adjani’s character, one of the highlights being an exhausting scene with her in a train station.


Possession is nothing like any movie I’ve seen before, particularly when it comes to horror. It’s a layered psychological horror drama with a lot to say and interpret from it. While I don’t understand everything by the end of it, its been on my mind ever since I watched it. The atmosphere is effectively uncomfortable and unsettling, and the performances from Sam Neill and particularly Isabelle Adjani are fantastic. Well worth checking out.


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