Over and above the slightly shocking blurb and the cover there are three things that grab your attention about the film, Sam Neill, Isabella Adjani, and you may be aware of the name of the Polish writer and director, Andrzej Zulawski, if not don't be concerned, there's still something for you in this film.
It's a strange film with an odd script that feels more like a stage play or an early Cronenberg film. There's some good and bad to it, and a rather Lovecraftian twist to the second half that turns torwards horror. An unusual film, an unusual cast for such a film, but there's something intruiging to it all and a rather interesting ending. It's a film that does far more than most to get under your skin, and that it certainly does.
Possession is a very unusual story that has a strong mix of auteur and horror, and at times in the first half of the film you do struggle getting into it and staying with the story. I think one of the reasons for that are the performances themselves, which at times are very theatrical and sometimes even too much. I found that Sam Neill's performance was one of the most animated that I've seen from him, and that's mostly from his emotional reaction in his face and his dialogue.
At times I would say that he definitely overplayed it, and the same could be said of Isabelle Adjani, but then her character is going through some very difficult and unusual outside influences so there's much more of an acceptance of her performance. It's not just the performances though, with Neill's character there are also some strange character choices that do stick out against the average character and perhaps more logical choices.
Adjani does give a strong performance though, and when she's called to give her all she really does. The strange scene in the underground, which I don't want to talk too much about for fear of giving something away, sees her give a blistering, almost out of her mind performance. The closing shots of these scenes are incredibly powerful and is where, for me, all of the aspects of the film hit their peak, showing their strengths just at the key moment and providing the viewer with a hugely powerful moment.
However none of the characters stand out as much as the flamboyant, avant garde, performance art-esque behaviour of Heinz Bennent as Heinrich. His performance is utterly bewildering at times and doesn't phase the other characters who try to interact with him as a normal human being. However watching you just can't believe that it's how you would behave in front of a person who waves their arms about and comes so close into your personal space. He's just utterly bizarre.
I wonder what would have happened if the film would have toned down these performances and sorted out a few of the rough edges in the dialogue, for despite the unusual aspects of the story, it's actually an interesting one, although it's only once it's completed can you look back on it and begin to understand it fully. To be honest it's really only after I'd watched the extras and listened to the writer/director talking about the film that I begun to really get to the core of the story and especially the ending.
Specifically it's really worth listening to the part in the extras where the ending is discussed, and one of the few problems with the lighting and make-up that sees the audience miss a key part of the tale. I can't really say anything about it, but had I caught the moment properly the ending would have had a massive impact on the film and the ramifications would have spread back through the story giving it much more depth and providing me with much more to mull over.
Despite the reservations of the producer and the writer\director in the extras, the effects really are good, and in the latter half of the film the effects are very prevalent. I would agree that at times they do look like a low budget film, but for the most part they look dark and vile, the effect I hope they were after. That final scene of the underground sequence with Adjani probably had the most impact, next to seeing her in that bedroom scene which I will say no more about.
The picture carries quite a grain and feels like you're watching a television film with the aspect ratio, however the nostalgic look matches the time and location of the film and you soon pair up with it. It holds the picture well through the darker aspects of the film when it ventures into dark windowless rooms to get our first glimpses at what is really behind the story. When we venture outside though the film tends to be a little washed out and overpowered by the brightness and the often sterile look to some of the apartments.
Dolby Digital 2.0
There's nothing really to the audio track, stereo seems so limited these days now that we have high definition master audio tracks delivered to the home cinema from Blu-ray. It does the job though and the score sometimes comes forth and brings a little depth and power to some of the scenes, such as the often mentioned underground scene.
"The Other Side of the Wall": The Making of Possession; Interview with Andrzej Zulawski; Photo Gallery
"The Other Side of the Wall": The Making of Possession
This is a fifty minute making of documentary, something you hardly see in films these days because the marketing companiese are so absorbed in these little short snippets that are used to sell the film in other places and are then just thrown onto the extras section. They are often lifeless and dull and don't really add anything to the overall picture. Not here. This is an indepth view of the film with some very interesting insights that explain much more about the underlying themes and connections in the film.
Interview with Andrzej Zulawski
Again this is a very interesting and insightful piece that tells us much about the writer and director Andrzej Zulawski as well as the film, however in the context of the film it is a huge insight and gives much more than the previous featurette, again something you see very little of on current releases where interviews and mutiple featurettes cover similar ground. Zulawski has some interesting titbits about the filming and some interesting revelations about other people on set that you really wouldn't hear from other directors about their cast and crew.
There is a difficulty in connecting with this film because of the performances, character choices and dialogue, as well as the understanding of some of the key elements such as the whole plot of Neill's character having been across the wall, a part of the story that helps build the political analogy. There's also a problem with some of the plot in the foreground of the story and following that, and you don't truly understand it until you've heard the extras.
It's something I feel that happens with films that are really trying to be avant garde and art house, they let that get in the way of actually delivering the story, more content to display how avant garde and art house they are. To me it feels like this happened with Possession.
However when you do relax and accept the film a little, and the film comes to you as well in the second half, it does become a much better experience and the story comes to you. Again though, without the additional explanation of the extras a lot of the impact of the ending would have been lost.
It's an interesting film, and could have been so much more, but still worth a visit for horror and art house fans alike, even if it is for the superb power of that underground scene and the superb moments with Adjani, or the realisation of what the ending was meant to portray.