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.