Buried deep within Possession, I’m convinced there’s a genuine kindling of some of the most truly horrible horror put to film. Beneath the layers of familial drama and luxurious shot composition, there is something that could spark fear in just about any audience member. The somewhat neutered approach that director Andrzej Żuławski takes to this Sam Neill led horror is a rather interesting choice, one that focuses on the narrative tensions, rather than the monster hidden in plain sight. For someone as squeamish as me, perhaps it’s for the best that Possession focuses its efforts on bringing together some fine performances that’ll make for unnerving watching, rather than a terrifying one.
With two superb leading performers, Possession has no issues whatsoever with dropping us into the deep end. Capable performers in the form of Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill make for our delightfully broken couple, who find themselves rekindling their jagged, fragile relationship as a possessive nature begins to take hold of Anna (Adjani). From there, the narrative writes itself with such ease, Neill and Adjani have incredible chemistry with one another, conflict sprouts from the smallest of issues. Anna rifling through cupboards and draws and making a mess, whilst Mark (Neill) stands at the frame of the door, mouth agape, makes for some truly kinetic and memorable storytelling.
Most of the horror comes from a lack of trust between the two, often seen at one another’s throat to increase the tension. Credit where it’s due, the two hand in some marvellous performances that do exactly that. No notion throughout that the relationship between the two is faux, and although it is unbelievable in how the film paces itself, it all comes together in a strong enough manner to forgive its rather meandering subplots. Concerning itself with detectives and private investigators, the film often stoops into some rather underwhelming supporting roles, but they don’t linger around long enough to cause too much of a concern.
What is rather great, though, is the horror itself. The terror of the unknowing, Possession showcases an obsession for Neill’s character, who often presents a stunned look of unknowing. He makes for a strong lead character, flawed but presentable, Żuławski gives us a character that is easy to latch onto, but even easier to despise. What few scenes of genuine terror we do receive aren’t a by-product of such a performance, but are aided tremendously by the efforts of the cast, who go to great lengths in selling the horrors that await them.
A couple of confusing twists that seem shoehorned into a film where the narrative battles its own artistic merits for a place in the spotlight, a real balance between style and substance is met rather clumsily. It has all the right pangs of the cult horror film, and is by far one of the better options available to this date. Strong performances, some very interesting directing choices and some gruesome props and set design make for a wholly immersive experience that sometimes finds itself floundering in its more artistically engaging but narratively defective moments.