10 Movies to Watch If You Like 'Possession'

First of all: are you okay?

Possession
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Welcome to Beat the Algorithm — a recurring column dedicated to providing you with relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. Today, we’re recommending films to watch if you’re a fan of Andrzej Żuławski’s disquieting horror film Possession.


Do you like to feel bad? We hope it’s not presumptive to think the answer is a resounding yes. After all, you did click on this column looking for more movies that will make you feel the way Possession makes you feel. Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 horror movie/relationship drama/living nightmare is a challenging film on every front. Its writhing tale of secrecy and duplicity only becomes more sinister and supernatural as it progresses, all the while obfuscating any clear interpretation. Possession is a national allegory, a study of fragmented relationships, and, to borrow the phrase du jour from contemporary horror movies, it’s actually all about grief.

All of this is to say that Possession is not easily classifiable, and neither are its inspirations or its legacy. It draws on traditions of psychologically dense films while creating something wholly original, and it has influenced countless movies while also being firmly inimitable. So, in searching for films that will suit the Eldritch tastes of Possession fans, this often means settling on tone and theme — films that capture a similar sense of unease, paranoia, and fear.

Here are the marriage stories, supernatural headscratchers, and otherworldly oddities that will tickle and tantalize any Possession aficionados:

This article was co-written with Anna Swanson.


Persona (1966)

Persona

If you love Possession for its splintered psychology and doubles, but you’re not looking for straight-up horror movies, Persona is undeniably the way to go. No matter how many times you watch this Ingmar Bergman film, it never becomes any easier to parse. That’s exactly what makes it good. Following an actress in the care of a young nurse, the film blurs all distinctions and categorizations; the self is undefinable, and the function of film itself is weaponized against any sense of clarity. Persona is a film like no other and by nature it eludes understanding. If you think you can’t make sense of it, then good, you’re starting to get it.

Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.


Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don't Look Now

Among the many reasons that Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is essential viewing is that it’s a masterclass in editing. The film utilizes elliptical cuts to match the nonlinear, even somewhat circular, storyline. After their daughter drowns, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and his wife, Laura (Julie Christie), move to Venice to find that all is not what it seems. With a vested interest in gothic traditions, the film is inventive and disorienting in equal measure. Much like Possession, it weaves in supernatural suspicions that feed off the palpable sense of dread. But the paranoia works in subtle ways, capturing the slow and crawling sensation of losing a hold on yourself and your sanity. The film expertly builds tension, and while we wouldn’t dare spoil how it crescendos, trust us when we say it’s worth it.

Available to stream on Kanopy.


The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)

The Witch Who Came From The Sea possession

Much like Possession, Matt Cimer’s tragedy-tinged psychological horror film The Witch Who Came From The Sea boasts one of the most badass movie posters of all time. No, seriously. It rules. And also much like Possession, The Witch Who Came From The Sea finds itself in esteemed company on the UK’s infamous “video nasties” list. Difficult to watch and transfixing in equal measure, it thrusts us into the crumbling world of a woman in the throes of a complete and total (and murderous) breakdown. The film concerns Molly (Millie Perkins), a single woman who dotes upon her two young nephews and idolizes the memory of her sailor father who died at sea. Well, except that’s not how her sister Cathy remembers it. According to Cathy, their father was a drunk who repeatedly sexually abused them. And while Molly’s conscious mind rejects the facts, her subconscious has more vicious ways of confronting the sticky frustrations of her traumatic past.

Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.


The Brood (1979)

The Brood Canadian Horror

Reportedly, the screenplay for Possession was written while its director was in the midst of a painful divorce. You can pretend to be shocked now if you want. And when it comes to genre offerings that give off enormous “The Director of This Film is Working Through Their Very Messy Divorce On-Screen” energy, you have to talk about The Brood. Conceived by David Cronenberg in the aftermath of an acrimonious divorce and custody battle, The Brood is the anti-venom to the round-edged, conciliatory portrait of marital strife as represented in the likes of Kramer vs. Kramer. The Brood tells of an exhausted dad named Frank (Art Hindle), who is embroiled in a custody battle with his deeply disturbed wife (Samantha Eggar), who is a permanent patient of an experimental psychotherapy clinic (it’s run by Oliver Reed, so you know nothing sinister is going on there). What follows is a body horror-riddled nightmare of physicalized trauma, perverted motherhood, and the monstrous use of children as fleshy weapons in marital warfare. Look, some of us go to therapy, others make skin-crawling horror films.

Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.


The Beyond (1981)

The Beyond cosmic horror possession

The key to watching Possession, or at the very least, emerging on the other end with your sanity more or less intact, is to give in to its nightmare-logic and tone-focused terror rhythms. Some movies aren’t interested in “making sense,” and that’s okay. The Beyond is one of those movies. Anyone who says they fully understand the plot of The Beyond is a liar. To bum a quote from Roger Ebert’s review of the film: “the plot involves … excuse me for a moment, while I laugh uncontrollably at having written the words “the plot involves.” I’m back.” In the loosest, and squishiest, of terms, The Beyond is (kind of) about a woman who inherits an old hotel in Louisiana that happens to be built atop an infernal portal. The third entry in Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which is a series of films united by an unshakable sense of apocalyptic inevitability, The Beyond is the most fun you can have gazing slack-jawed into the void.

Available to stream on Shudder.

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(Senior contributor)

Three toddlers in a trenchcoat. Currently running The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope.