Dir: Andrzej Zulawski, 1981. Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent. Horror.

“Goodness is only some kind of reflection upon evil...that's all it is.” --Anna, in Zulawski's Possession.

Possession, the feverish and mesmerizing masterpiece from Andrzej Zulawski, is a drama about a failed marriage that unexpectedly turns into a horror film; a bad trip that you sometimes wish would end only because you feel disturbed, or at the very least unbalanced, for enjoying it immensely.

The film begins with a glimpse of a still-divided Berlin that serves as the perfect stage for the over-dramatic and emotional reunion of Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani)—a married couple on the verge of divorce. Mark has just returned from a high-profile military assignment and his wife is unsure of how or whether or not to remain with him. In a callous move she leaves him and their young son Bob, and here begins Mark's suspicion that she has someone else in her life.

The descent into madness from both parties is only focused on Mark at first. Neill holds nothing back as the invasive camera exposes a man who is devastated by the loss of his wife and the indecency of her departure. Anna begins to return home in unannounced and turbulent visits that disrupt Mark's desperate attempts to restore order for himself and their son. Eventually this leads him to hire a private detective to figure out where she runs off to, coming up with a flamboyant German by the name of Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) who is just as bewildered by Anna and also can't speak for her whereabouts most of the time. This allows him to stabilize and the story to shift to Anna's mania, which is as violent and unnerving as Mark's—if not more.

Up until this point the movie has remained a melodrama of sorts. Although Neill and Adjani both held their own on camera, there was almost an atmosphere of dark comedy surrounding events. Suddenly everything changes. People begin to disappear, blood seems to be in every other scene and we discover that Anna is harboring and nurturing a very dark secret. Mark's previous attempts to understand his wife's zany displays of unhappiness soon become an obsessive quest to aid her evil in ways that oddly make them conspirators in the madness. Unfortunately for everyone in their way, this has disastrous consequences.

The score by Andrzej Korzynski offers a pulse for the film and delicious cues to the terror that you confusedly drink in with eagerness. Adjani works a dark magic on the screen with each of these segments that is not only something to behold, but to be applauded. For those who are not familiar with Neill, or have only seen mainstream hits like Event Horizon or Jurassic Park, this will most certainly be a perspective game-changer.

The camera work by Bruno Nuytten adds a special quality to the film and is somewhat bizarre to contemplate seeing as he was Adjani's partner and the father of her son. The focus on her, though essential to the plot, was most certainly intensified by this. Also quite notable are the views of a timeless and eerie West Germany before reunification that is just as thought-provoking.

Special effects work by Carlo Rambaldi (known for the creation of the lovable alien from E.T. and the functions of the monster from Alien) aids the already terrifying and somehow rewarding violence of the movie and establishes the horror elements that still make it almost indefinable in terms of genre.

Possession is one of those gems that will perhaps leave you wondering what you are supposed to take away from it. Is it a film about divorce? Courage and faith? Goodness and evil? Eventually one stops trying to understand it and simply looks forward to seeing it again. This is a guaranteed treat and a landmark in cinematic ecstasy for anyone who revels in the range of possibility in the moving picture. Highly recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 10, 2013 2:01pm
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