Tom Humberstone


horror month - day 16

Possession (1981)

"I feel nothing for no-one!"

Quick summary: Dr. Alan Grant, before becoming a velociraptor-fighting paleontologist, is a spy of some sort who comes home to a troubled marriage. When Isabelle Adjani requests a divorce, he goes a bit mad, while she starts exhibiting strange behaviour. Like spending her time hanging out with a demonic cephalopod type creature. I'll be honest, this film is not easily summarised.

I don't entirely know if I understood this film. It's somewhere between a highly intense arthouse movie about divorce and a bizarre gore-heavy exploitation movie and while I thought it was compelling, I probably need to watch it a few more times to really unpack what it was about. On the surface, there's lots there about the stresses of divorce, the cancer of mistrust, unhealthy co-dependence, self-harm, marital abuse, misogyny and much more. All of which would be supported by the fact that writer/director Andrzej Żuławski was going through a divorce when he was writing the script. But there's so much more going on in there that I genuinely need more time to process it all.

The fact that there's a heightened hysteria to the acting/tone of the film, and none of the characters behave in ways we would naturally expect them to, adds to this feeling of watching a very disturbing fever dream.

I'd been meaning on tracking Possession down about five years ago - it was one of the more obscure video nasties that didn't get immediate cult status, but people started talking about it in glowing terms when Antichrist came out (another horror film I've yet to watch) - it was hard to find even then. Now it's easily available on DVD, and I actually bought it on iTunes in order to watch it while travelling over the weekend.

The famous subway scene is absolutely riveting and distressing and representative of just how intense the film is. I can see why Adjani won awards for her performance. I read somewhere that she took several years to get over playing Anna.

By the way: Worst. Private Detective. Ever.

The creature effects were by Carlo Rambaldi who worked on Alien and went on to do effects for ET and Dune. I think this is some of his best work.

Almosteveryreview or article I find about the film has the same shell-shocked, overwhelmed tone to it. As I say, it'll take me a while to figure out what I just watched. I'd recommend everyone watch it (so I can at least talk to people about it).