The Daily Stream: Possession Is Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it)

The Movie: "Possession"

Where You Can Stream It: Shudder

The Pitch: "Possession" is a wild, piercing shriek of a film. Andrzej Żuławski's long-unavailable 1981 film follows a spy named Mark (Sam Neill) who grows increasingly desperate and disturbed when his wife, Anna (Isabelle Adjani), asks for a divorce. Anna herself isn't exactly acting normal; she's evasive and erratic and alludes to a relationship with someone else, plus there's a teacher at their child's school who looks just like her. All of this, though, is an extreme understatement compared to what we see on screen, because "Possession" is a frantic, shocking, logic-defying, funny, and fantastic film that defies nearly any explanation.

The movie is composed in large part of explosive scenes between Adjani and Neill, who pull apart and crash together all across West Berlin with a sense of epic melodrama and tragedy. But "Possession" only gets stranger and more complex as it goes, evolving into a tense psychological thriller about divorce, a gruesome and seductive slice of body horror, and even a savvy political allegory. Żuławski crafts the film at a pace — and with a demented fervor — that makes nearly every scene feel as gutsy and unhinged as the climax of a particularly adventurous horror movie, and the result is a visually stunning, primally satisfying film that will leave you dizzy and in awe by the time it's finally done.

Why it's essential viewing

Historically, "Possession" has been extremely hard to come by. In the U.K., it was labeled a "video nasty" upon release, banned as a part of the country's push towards censoring films deemed exploitative. American moviegoers didn't get to experience "Possession" in all its glory for years, either, as its eventual U.S. release was, as Roger Ebert noted in his review, "dumped just before Halloween with a third of its running time removed." The movie never even got a semi-proper U.S. home video release until the year 2000, and it wasn't until this past year that Metrograph Pictures made a 4K restoration of the uncut film available at repertory screenings nationwide.

The film's inaccessibility may have solidified its status as a must-watch for hardcore horror fans, but it also fully deserves its massive cult following. There's a weirdness in every word of "Possession" that makes it special. It's the kind of movie that, once seen, you can't wait to show someone else as soon as possible. Nearly every line reading in the film feels like an off-the-wall choice from its actors, especially when Heinz Bennent's Heinrich waltzes onscreen to trade words with Mark. The film sometimes dips into camp territory, but it's clearly purposeful, with Żuławski reveling in disorientation, disconnect, and emotions so vast and deep that they feel dangerous.

The crowning jewel of "Possession" is Adjani's performance. She plays Anna like a piece of shattered glass, fragmented into dozens of glistening pieces that each reflect the world a little differently than the next. She's hungry and pained and ferocious and glorious. The camera also loves her, confidently framing Anna in some of the most indelible horror shots of all time. 

"Possession" is an unrelenting trip, and Adjani our beautifully monstrous tour guide.