A Genre Defying, Gory Thrill ride
As anyone might expect from the son of legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg, who is known for body horror films, Brandon Cronenberg's latest film Possessor delivers an action/scifi twist on the body horror genre that is sure to visually excite and entertain. The film is a critically acclaimed, high concept Sundance gem acquired from NEON, which is emerging as one of the great procurer and producer of films, they have a clear eye for standout creative, artistic voices. The general premise, for those unfamiliar, is an assassin uses brain implant technology to take control of other people's bodies to terminate high profile targets. As she sinks deeper into her latest assignment, Vos becomes trapped inside a man that threatens to obliterate her. Brandon Cronenberg reinvents the genre by also adding a psychological twist to the already genre blending (and bending) and visually spectacular film.
The film does not shy away from blood, gore or violence as the opening sequence gets right into the action, and all of the above mentioned. Throughout the film, I have never seen so much plugging in to other people's brains as seen in this film, and blood. Did I mention it's bloody? If you're a fan of the "hitman" genre, get ready because this is unlike any other typical hitman film you've ever seen. As I mentioned, the film seamlessly blends several genres as it takes us into an unconventional, techno-psychological corporate hitman world. Vos, the main character, as brought to life by Andrea Riseborough (likely most known for the cult indie horror hit Mandy (2018)), completes a hit and returns home to see her recently separated husband and her son. While home, she shows signs of losing sight of reality and comes to grips with being away from her family as a result of her job, and possibly loses her mind along with her emotions. Eager to return to work, she flies back out to where she dives into her next contract, which will prove psychologically difficult, logistically complicated, physically demanding and life-threatening.
At this point, it will be difficult to dive deeper into my criticism and praise of the film without spoilers, but I will do my level best. Upon entering her next contract, there are excellent visual sequences which include beautiful, intimate, claustrophobic, and even perturbing cinematography. Cronenberg keeps the audience on its toes by offering grotesque, manic, and mind-bending visuals to tell the story and to offer enthralling transitions not frequently seen in films of this kind. Often, the film allows scenes to play out slowly, patiently, and hypnotically, which I respect and appreciate, but at times the editing was quick-cutting, strobe-like, and off-kilter to keep us off-balance and to keep us honest when we feel the pace might be too slow. This works heavily in the film's favor as films of this genre tend to be too break-neck paced or caught up too deeply in the plot/exposition. Cronenberg ensures that we're never bored or disoriented. A film which blends all these genres, especially with scifi and psychological aspects, includes multiple twists as you would expect (and hope) from it, in ways that you wouldn't expect or try to predict. Which was nice and refreshing. (I just knew there HAD to be a twist, considering the premise).
I never felt as if the reliance on gore was excessive or worked against the film in any way as it was sparse, quick, and effective whenever it did occur. Cronenberg had a distinct vision for how he wanted to present us with visuals and it was difficult to find any inspiration, theft of ideas or visuals from other films. This is due in large part to the excellent makeup and effects team as they provided astonishing images and work to the characters and big moments in the film. It seems to me that Brandon Cronenberg is coming into his own as a writer/director and can make a name for himself as someone distinguished as not just a son of a legendary filmmaker, but rather, an emerging unique, original voice that is much needed in the indie film community now more than ever.
Aside from a couple lulls in the pacing of the story, a somewhat underwhelming ending and some not always great dialogue, the film is superbly paced, wonderfully acted, visually entrancing, and is always interesting, intriguing, and entertaining. The film is carried largely by Christopher Abbott's impressively layered performance. It seems odd that Riseborough is not on-screen nearly as much as Abbott, (but you will understand why this is when you watch the film), although she makes the most of her somewhat surprisingly limited screen time. As stated before, the concept is possibly seen and done before, but the way it's presented and carried out in the plot was done in ways I had not seen before and was properly surprised by and impressed with. The film deftly blends some arthouse aspects with the way it is visually arresting and how the effects are done and brought to life on screen, while also injecting the high concept a mainstream film would blush at and including the ever-needed thrills these genres demand today. Overall, the film included everything I would expect and hope for out of a film of this kind and I had a blast watching it very nearly all the way through.
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Possessor (UNCUT) can be rented on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies, and Vudu.