Possessor

Possessor ★★★½

I'm a huge fan of the intellectual horror master David Cronenberg, so when I heard his son was also getting into the horror/SF game I was more than a bit curious. Obviously every artist's work should be judged on its own merits, however in some cases such comparisons are inevitable. You wouldn't talk about Frank Sinatra Jr. and his musical career without at least mentioning his quite well known father, or perhaps one can say that this would not be so front of mind had Jr. decided to be the drummer in a goregrind band rather than, say, a lounge singer. Likewise with Brandon, since he's following the familial path, such artistic similarity makes this unavoidable and therefore it must be addressed, at least briefly.

Possessor is a science fiction body horror movie that aims to say something about the way technology affects modern society. Broadly the story is about a woman, Vos (Andrea Riseborough), who "possesses" people in order to carry out assassinations. This is achieved by her taking control of other people's minds until the deed is done, then she returns to her own skin after getting the unwilling donor killed. There are so many ideas and concepts being worked through here, about fluid identity, gender roles, corporate power, privacy and technology as well as family that none of them are given the space they demand and deserve. And all this plays out while Riseborough's Vos is fighting a gore-soaked psychotronic war across Toronto against Christopher Abbott's mind-raped patsy, Tate. The film has a gonzo opening scene that accomplishes so much without dialogue, but while this isn't a Christopher Nolan-esque exercise in exposition ad nauseam, the more we find out about what's going the less satisfying the movie becomes. It really does seem as if the writer/director can't hold all this together and its starts to seriously get away from him.

David Cronenberg's films, in addition to all their other joys such as their twisted visual imagination and unrelenting coldness, never lose sight of the allegorical purpose behind all the splatter and general unpleasantness. I've said it before about these wannabe auteurs; sometimes you really need another writer in there to harness ambition into effect. Brandon, like his Canadian contemporary, Panos Cosmatos (and his 2018 Lovecraftian nightmare Mandy is a good point of comparison here, not only for another haunting Andrea Riseborough performance lit in strong colours and accompanied by an awesome electronica score) have created movies where the less that is explained the better they work. The near exclusive use of practical effects over digital helps give that organic, squishy/icky quality that every worthwhile body horror movie needs, and there are plenty of nightmarish images, even the simple stuff like the queasily rotating establishing shots, all of which show a strong directorial eye.

I'll also credit Brandon as a good director of actors, there's some pretty wrenching stuff here and he gets the most of out a quality cast. Special note must go to Jennifer Jason Leigh who brings the same restrained professional strangeness she did to films like the old man's eXistenZ (1999) or Alex Garland's Annihilation (2018). There's also another son of a Canadian legend on board in Rossif Sutherland. Gabrielle Graham also makes an impact in her one scene. So while not approaching Cronenberg senior's level, the son proves he's not just coasting on the family name. I have a feeling Possessor might improve upon rewatch as, like I said, this isn't a movie that's keen on explaining itself, it's more an experience, hyper-violent and explicitly sexual as these body-focused tales must be. It crashes into the viewer, but with a bit more thought put into how to marshal all the ideas it, er, possesses, into something more streamlined, it could have really crashed through.

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