Eight years after his debut feature, Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg has finally made a second sci-fi/horror movie, Possessor. This film premiered last January at the Sundance Film Festival and it’s now become available on […….]
Fairly well received by critics and audiences alike during the festival, Possessor has unfortunately been leaked online even before the actual release date was announced: that likely cause a huge financial loss, which is why I encourage you to either rent the movie or buy it on digital now. I believe it’s important to support indie cinema as much as possible, in order to get both more quality products and more original films that are not the usual mainstream garbage. So, even if you did watch this movie illegally when the online screener was leaked, please consider supporting the filmmaker and those who worked on it now.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Possessor – plot and main characters
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving them to commit murders for the benefit of the company, led by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Even though she is established as gifted for the work, her experiences on these jobs have caused a dramatic change in her, and in her own life, since she struggles to suppress violent memories and urges. As her mental strain intensifies, she begins to lose control, and soon she finds herself trapped in the mind of a man, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), whose identity threatens to obliterate her own.
While the story is clearly inspired by a bunch of classics (from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, from Nicolas Roeg’s Performance to even The Matrix), Possessor manages to feel unique and original due to its unconventional execution and ambitious goals. In this respect, it’s worth mentioning that the two main characters – Tasya and Colin – are given the same screen time and thorough development, which is even more impressive and unique when you think about the two personalities inhabiting one single mind.
Body Horror & Psychological Thriller
Set in a world with no name, without any indication regarding time or space, Possessor feels almost like a surreal experience that could take place anywhere and at any moment. Such surrealist and nightmarish approached, which can be visually represented in the “mind-swapping” scenes, is balanced and anchored by the squeamish and disturbing body horror element. Just like his father, master of body horror David Cronenberg, Brandon has a unique way of testing the boundaries of comfort and exploring the human mind and body in gory fashion and gruesome details. In fact, one of the most satisfying elements of the film is represented by the very graphic and unflinching violence, made all the more effective by the use of phenomenal practical FX and by how much the camera lingers on them, without shying away from the most hideous imagery.
The ultra-violent aspects of Possessor are matched with an equally powerful psychological horror element. This revolves, mostly, around the theme of guilt, which is prominent in both main characters’ psyche: one of them needs to overcome it in order to become the cold assassin she needs to be; the other tries to deal with it while being controlled by another person. It’s a fascinating concept, explored mostly through visuals and call-backs, which elevates this film from a good gory flick to a truly memorable and multi-layered film.
Character… or characters?
Such ambitious conflict depicted in Possessor can only work if the characters are realistic and relatable. Fortunately, Cronenberg Jr. wrote them as compelling human beings, with subtle and complex motivations and agencies. It definitely helps that both Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott are phenomenal actors who truly sell every single moment of this film: I’ve never seen Abbott give a bad performance in his entire career and even Riseborough, given the right role, she can truly steal the show.
On top of that, most of the minor characters were both well-written and played convincingly enough, with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Bean providing some good acting moments as one might expect from them. There were, however, a few performances that felt very wooden or just plain bad – the actors who played Tasya’s husband and Colin’s co-worker didn’t do a very good job.
Inconsistencies and areas for improvement
Aside from a couple of unconvincing performances, there are a few other issues with Possessor. While the character writing is (basically) spotless, the movie features a couple of moments that seem extremely convenient, with minor characters popping up out of the blue just to provide motivations for the main characters to move the story forwards. Yet, certain sequences at the beginning of the film are kind of goofy, such as when a woman – whose mind had been taken over by Tasya – stabs a man to death in the middle of a party: instead of stopping her, the party guests run away as though they couldn’t do anything to prevent what happened, when they clearly could’ve intervened. Later on, a police man shoots a person several times and, for no reason at all, shoots the cadaver in the head one more time: a scene like this is obviously there just to please the audience with some cool effects, but it doesn’t advance the story in any way.
Besides these minor complaints, which didn’t affect my rating even though they annoyed me quite a bit, my main complaint with Possessor regards its pacing: this is a very dense story, with loads of elements to chew on, but the pace is extremely fast, leaving hardly any moment for the audience to digest what’s happening. To my understanding, some people found the pacing slow, which really shocks me: I would’ve either liked Possessor to be 20/30 minutes longer (to make scenes a bit more drawn out) or for it to move at a slower pace, in order to fully understand what the characters were going through.
Regardless of my complaints with Possessor, it was an absolutely refreshing and satisfying experience from beginning to end. Speaking of the ending, it’s open to interpretation: I’m just mentioning it because I know some people don’t like that, so be warned that at the end of the film you might find yourself scratching your head and trying to figure out the meaning of Possessor.
This is, definitely, not a horror film everyone will enjoy, but it’s a challenging, off-putting, graphic and mostly well-made movie that some of you will really love. Regardless, it is worth checking out, whether you’ll be satisfied at the end or not.
I can’t decide!
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