Possession ★★★★

Possession is a film of escalating tones that build without a break between the tones, until it’s ultimately a cacophony of high-pitched screams. Unlike an argument that gets bigger and bigger to the point where someone leaves, smokes a cigarette or takes a walk, and then comes back and apologizes for letting things boil over, Possession has an argument that boils over, spills blood onto the floor, goes out the door to have sex with a Lovecraftian monster, has a cruel and goopy bodily breakdown in a subway and a heightened showdown at the Berlin Wall. Even if you know everything that’s coming it’s still shocking to see and feel.

Andrzej Zulawski’s film takes the type of domestic drama that Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavettes turned into probing masterpieces of relationships in hysteria and he pushes it into a toxic nightmare. Every screaming match between the married couple (a wide-eyed Isabelle Adjani and a vein-popping Sam Neill) feels like it could end in murder. And the wife’s sexual obsession that forms with both a stranger and a strange thing, shows a death wish attraction and complete lack of self worth. Every scene in this film feels like it could end with death or fucking—or by fucking someone to death.

Possession is one of the tensest films you’ll ever see, but there are icky rewards here, too. Never has anyone been asked to go the lengths that Adjani does here for a horror film. She wrecks her body and during production, it even undid her mind, as Adjani said it took years of therapy to erase the intensity of emotional breakdowns she was asked to do. There’s a perversity in knowing that she want mad during production, but it’s one of the greatest performances of the decade. The proof is in the groceries.

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