I’ve got a review of Sex in the City in the Movie to write, but I’m having trouble plucking up the courage, so to properly set myself up for such a distressing ordeal I thought I’d watch a deliberate horror film. What shall it be, I wondered – oh, why not the one that Mark Kermode mentioned recently, what was it? Oh yes:
Possession, made in 1981. I couldn’t have picked anything better.
What follows is an approximate synopsis, fully laden with spoilers, so if brain-hurtingly nonsensical horror-bullshit- hybrids are your thing, skip the rest and watch it direct. If it isn’t, what the hell are you still reading for?
Pre-wall-fall Berlin, probably the Western side although I couldn’t tell you why I think so, and it seems like there is almost no-one in the entire world apart from estranged couple sometimes-looks-like-a-Jewish-housewife housewife Isabel Adjani, so-stilted-he-should-be-on-stilts private detective-or-something Sam Neill, and their surprisingly-normal-although-not-that-much young son.
From the minute Neill returns from his mysterious spying for the Government gig things are strange between the two, culminating in Neill’s realisation that Adjani has been having an affair for some time, which leads to intermittent circumstances including separation, her living in their flat, him living in their flat, both of them living in their flat, and him spending three weeks fucked out of his head in a hotel room and really really looking like shit.
Neill takes over looking after their son and soon discovers that the boy’s teacher is the spitting image of his wife, wah-hey, then he goes home and, not for the first time, catches Adjani trying to kill herself. After smacking her about a bit she does a runner, so Neill pulls himself together and goes looking for… the Other Man.
The Other Man turns out to be Heinrich, apparently a philosophising psychotic middle-aged playboy who lives with his elderly Norman-Bates-style Mum and can’t be bothered buttoning up his white shirt and trouser combo; but despite Neill’s certain knowledge that Adjani had been with him that very day, Heinrich denies having seen her in some time. Then he kicks the shit out of Neill with his karate chops and tells him he loves him.
Confused by the mixed infidelity signals he’s receiving, Neill has one of his PI buddies keep tabs on Adjani while he hovers on the verge of fooling around with her educationally employed doppelganger – but when the PI follows Adjani A to her other lover’s place, he really doesn’t like what he finds there.
What he finds is a bed-ridden, multi-tentacled, blood-soaked meat-horror that is, she tells us, “very tired because he was making love to me all night”. Adjani cuts the PI’s throat with a wine bottle (and shoots the guy who later comes looking for him, AND stabs Heinrich several non-lethal times when he shows up for a dominance fuck, both directed her way by Neill. When Heinrich calls Neill to let him know about the horror that they must kill together, Neill meets him in a nearby nightclub rest room and does the decent thing by clubbing him unconscious with a cistern lid and drowning him in the toilet.
Bodies start to stack up, and when Neill finally gets a look at the thing for himself – he catches it shagging his wife, which is a sight to be seen and no mistake – well, now he really goes off the rails. Cue motorcycle chases down streets, exploding cars, shot policemen, all sorts of stuff. Neill’s tattered remains eventually stagger home and collapse on the stairs, only to be found by Adjani who wants him to meet her now corporeally completed lover who looks, can you guess what’s coming, exactly like Neill – SURPRISE!
Then the two originals get shot to bits by the cops, share a reuniting kiss before Adjani shoots herself in her own back, while the Uber-Neill escapes to their flat where the Adjani-ganger is babysitting. The boy runs away to “hide” face down in a bath full of water, while Adjani-ganger and Uber-Neill appear to witness the end of the world going on outside, bomb-fall wailings, flashing lights, shaking sets, THE END.
Got all that?
Possession makes about as much sense as a mincemeat diving board. It’s like a stream of consciousness but without the consciousness, while the stream is a stream of feculent diarrhoea. The dialogue is unbelievably bad (early contender for best lines: “Were you unfaithful to me?” – “The truth is, Not Really.”) but this is compounded by delivery that beggars belief. It’s as if every line was recorded at 25fps and then played back at 23 – just slightly too long in the vowels and pauses, with the effect of reminding me of every episode of drunken nausea I can actually remember, only far less coherent.
It makes me wonder how Sam Neill ever got another job – he’s hardly an acting luminary, but this is just stupid – and, wait, but, then I remember: he was also in Event Horizon and In The Mouth Of Madness and Omen 3, so he clearly must like this kind of thing, always switching from Wooden through Feverish and finally into Doll-Eyed God-Monster… it’s a far cry from Dead Calm, is what I’m getting at.
Isabel Adjani, however, makes him fade into the background like a wallflower. One minute fretting, the next glittery–fragile, the next suicidal screaming harpy, her performance peaks during a scene in a pedestrian underpass reminiscent of that scene with Regan, the tormented child in The Exorcist, only without the same air of mannered restraint. Actually, for all its faults, this scene is worth bearing witness to; it’s horrible in the way that seeing someone undergo a total, irreversible mental breakdown must be, quite astonishing, then very effectively horrible; and then the movie pays you off for your time investment by having her be fucked by a giantdogpenismonster. Which she rates as an “almost”…
It runs to two hours, but according to IMDb it was nominated for a BAFTA in the Best Short category. Crossed lines there, perhaps, or maybe that’s why it didn’t win, but Adjani got Best Actress at Cannes for her troubles, so it MUST be good. There seems to be a rumour that she tried to kill herself after watching it too.
I used to have a real thing for Isabel Adjani, I like Subway a lot. Glad I saw that first, or my teens might have been a much less happy period for me. It was her boyfriend of the time directing Possession – any wonder she shacked up with Daniel Day-Lewis? Office romances never last.