Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Producer: Niv Fichman, Andrew Starke, Kevin Krikst, Fraser Ash
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh
An assassin who uses brain implant technology to inhabit human hosts and frame them for murder becomes trapped inside her latest target.
Filmmaking doesn¡¯t immediately spring to mind when thinking of talents that seem genetically transmissible through familial bloodlines. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg makes a strong case that DNA does in fact retain such information, as an apple hasn¡¯t fallen this close to a father¡¯s tree since Joe Hill inherited the storytelling style and macabre matter of Stephen King. Through ¡°Possessor Uncut,¡± which is the same movie as ¡°Possessor¡± except with a misleading word added for its wide release, Brandon Cronenberg extends his dad David¡¯s fascination with invasively mutative body horror as well as his aesthetic awareness for cinematic environments that smolder with sterility, sleekness, and cold near futures frighteningly within arm¡¯s reach.
¡°Possessor¡± quickly identifies that you¡¯ve stepped inside a distinctive Cronenberg Family vision by introducing Tasya Vos. Even though it takes place in our reality and not in an Isaac Asimov robot novel, the film also features characters with names like Elio, Girder, Parse, Reeta, and Boyko. Tech corporations are called Tremation and Zoothroo. The Cronenberg communication pattern always requires unique naming conventions to keep a world wobbling into weirdness and ¡°Possessor¡± is no exception.
When not repairing a rickety relationship with her estranged husband and son, Tasya clandestinely works as an assassin. Wealthy clients seeking to discretely execute someone contact the shadowy organization Tasya works for. Using brain implants that allow her to temporarily Sam Beckett someone¡¯s mind and body, Tasya¡¯s cognizance takes over a target and uses that person to pull a trigger. Once that trigger turns toward the host¡¯s head and fires, Tasya can flip back to her own brain.
Tasya hits a hurdle when she jacks into Colin. A former drug dealer engaged to an heiress, Colin is intensely disliked by his future father-in-law John, the head honcho of a massive data-mining firm. He isn¡¯t who wants Colin dead though. John¡¯s stepson Reid realizes he can inherit the family fortune. He just needs John and his stepsister eliminated at Colin¡¯s hand.
Unfortunately for Tasya, Colin¡¯s willpower proves to be not so easily suppressed. When Colin fights to retain his autonomy, Tasya becomes trapped in his mindscape, and the confrontation between their two consciousnesses can only crown one victor.
Although it forges a foundation that writes precise rules governing its high concept, ¡°Possessor¡¯s¡± setup can be summarized with succinct simplicity because plotting isn¡¯t critical to what keeps the gears grinding. It¡¯s not a fiction-heavy film. It¡¯s literally about but figuratively functions as an almost out-of-body experience that wades through suggestive spaces while inviting an audience¡¯s imagination to merge with the moods visualized onscreen.
In a poetic bit of synchronicity, ¡°Possessor¡± oddly parallels its premise by being exploratory to the point of losing control over its focus. While Tasya struggles to swim against the strong current of Colin¡¯s mind, the movie drifts further away from a firm narrative as it gets caught in the undertow of artistry. ¡°Possessor¡± wants to feel uncomfortably unusual and it succeeds, but sacrifices story substance to do so.
¡°Possessor¡¯s¡± slow burn paints from an arthouse palette colored by camera angles putting negative space on the opposite side of where someone¡¯s head points. Subtle handheld listing accentuates a guerrilla feel without an air of hurried laziness. Clinical architecture cools settings with straight lines of glass and aluminum. Striking colors then dominate singular scenes with giallo-like richness. Virtually every frame is consciously designed down to each meticulous detail.
The story meanwhile is forced to form out of unconscious and subconscious intent. Squint hard enough and you can probably interpret thematic swaths concerning agency, false identity, subservience, actualization, and more arcs along those lines. Rather than leave an individual up to his/her personal assignment of metaphoric depth, a tighter hand could confidently guide that direction with specificity instead of opening the angle to 180 degrees of possibilities. In that regard, Brandon Cronenberg has more road to travel to reach the artistic assuredness of the other man with his last name.
¡°Possessor¡± thus plays out as a dreamy test run for something more resonant, as though Cronenberg thought craftsmanship could cover for holes in conceptualization. That plan works in spurts. Techniques described above are intermittently intoxicating. Outstanding blasts of blood highlighted by fireplace poker-induced ocular trauma hammer physical horror home with a force equal to, if not greater than, anything in the senior Cronenberg¡¯s oeuvre.
It¡¯s a trippy film for sure, but one that feels shortchanged in impact areas. Lessened roles make minimal use of both Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Stars Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott have more material to make an impression, though even that asks the two of them to squeeze sadness from pained expressions in unspoken monologue moments as opposed to dynamic interactions.
¡°Possessor Uncut¡± could be a meta essay authored by Cronenberg to exorcise the haunting horror of being overshadowed by a prominent personality while silently screaming to break free. Though I¡¯ve done nothing to assist that aim given the comparison I¡¯ve made several times here, I certainly see the dilemma being wrestled with. I just wish the movie¡¯s knob gave up a notch of journalistic discovery in favor of turning closer toward commercial entertainment.
Review Score: 60