Seeing Double

Nobody Needs a Possession Remake

Who asked for this?

The Possession
Gaumont

For almost 20 years, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession was almost impossible to find — at least, in its original uncut version. Despite a prestigious premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981, the gonzo psychological horror film was quickly labeled a “video nasty” and banned in the U.K., while only a heavily edited 81-minute version (as opposed to the original 124-minute version) was released in the U.S. For decades it was out of circulation, with the full version only being made available on home video in 2000.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, Possession grew to be a cult classic. But Possession is more than just its impenetrable reputation — it’s truly one of the most deeply disturbing, deeply personal, and remarkably uncompromising horror films of all time. Which is why it’s such a folly for anyone to attempt a remake of it.

A remake of Possession produced by Robert Pattinson, with Smile director Parker Finn attached to write and direct, has become the hot topic in Hollywood this week, with The Hollywood Reporter revealing that A24, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, and Warner Bros. are engaged in a bidding battle for the project. And while Pattinson’s involvement is intriguing, after The Batman actor has proven himself to have a real affinity for freakish high-concept genre movies, Possession is the kind of singular horror movie that doesn’t warrant any kind of remake or reboot.

Isabelle Adjani gives one of cinema’s most unhinged, committed physical performances in Possession — one that would be tough to top.

Gaumont

Starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani as a married couple living in West Berlin at the height of the Soviet-US tensions the original Possession was very much a metaphor for Żuławski’s own crumbling marriage, albeit one full of eerie doppelgangers and upsettingly graphic body horror. It’s a movie just as much about marital isolation and the sociopolitical strife of the ‘80s as it is about horny, gross tentacled-monsters straight out of Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. And as hard as those elements would be to replicate, it’s the central performance by Adjani that will prove to be the biggest hurdle for any remake.

Throughout the film, Adjani’s Anna is a woman on the edge, though Neill’s Mark cannot figure out why. Constantly erratic, unreadable, and physically violent, her performance culminates in the film’s famous miscarriage scene, in which Adjani unleashes a torrent of female rage, existential distress, and various bodily fluids. It’s one of the most incredibly committed feats of physicality ever put on celluloid and one that was recently paid homage to by Nell Tiger Free in The First Omen. But no matter how many actresses who would be willing to fling themselves at walls and cover themselves in spit and rotten fruit, it won’t be the same as when Adjani first shocked us all in 1981’s Possession.

Conceptually, Possession might be relatively simple to replicate — a crumbling marriage, eerie doppelgangers, and a hot tentacle man are part of the basic formula. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a filmmaker who would be able to recreate that bizarre combination of repulsive thrills and eerily mesmerizing heartache of Żuławski’s Possession.

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