FILM REVIEW: POSSESSOR: UNCUT (TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW 2020)
Whoever said horror films can’t be smart, obviously hasn’t seen Brandon Cronenbergs’ latest film POSSESSOR UNCUT. I was lucky enough to catch this artistic bloodfest as a part of Telluride Horror Show’s closing night. Telluride always brings the heat on the final day of the fest, and the 2020 Shelter-In-Place edition has been no different. My only regret was not being able to have my “WTF did we just see” conversation with other festival goers…and for this one I really needed it. It’s an essential element to the film festival experience, and something that was sorely missed this year! Even without having that communal viewing experience, POSSESSOR pretty much punched me square in the face! I mean that as a compliment.
I’ve been looking forward to this film since I’d heard the rumblings about it in early February. I even know a handful of journalists that had already seen it. It’s been one of the most positively reviewed horror films of the year, according to industry people I know & trust. That’s really saying something since my professional acquaintances run the gamut from horror lovers to horror haters. I thought I was mentally prepared for the film, and I was wrong. POSSESSOR is the type of film that rolls around in your brain and refuses to stay quiet! Frankly, I wasn’t even sure I liked the film at first, but it just stayed with me and forced me to think about it. I appreciate any film that refuses to loosen its grip on your mind. POSSESSOR is one of those films.
Two things I can assuredly tell you are this: See the damn thing with others if possible, and make sure you are in a time/place where you can pay full attention (I’m talking to you cell phone addicts…turn that shit off). This film will ask a lot of you…mentally, physically, emotionally… but oh the rewards you’ll reap are so worth it. Think of it as a good time to disconnect from the rest of the world, while you enjoy a true piece of auteur cinema. This film transcends the horror genre, by being confrontational in a way that I haven’t been challenged in a while. POSSESSOR is certainly on the fast track to make my top 5 of 2020. It’s also definitely not for the squeamish. Brandon Cronenberg is certainly his father’s son, if you know what I mean.
POSSESSOR is a unique and sophisticated espionage film at its core. Yes, it has all manner of horror and sci-fi rolled into it, but what I first thought might be an identity crisis, actually works in its favor. Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an elite hit-woman who takes the contracts no one else can handle. However she’s not your typical assassin. The company Tasya works for has developed a technology that allows her to enter the psyche of someone in her target’s inner circle. So, she is quite literally entering the mind of someone else and taking them over. The tech isn’t really explained, but it also really isn’t that important to the narrative of the story. The film opens as Tasya brutally and repeatedly stabs a wealthy business man to death at a celebration party before exiting the “host” body. The kill is insanely bloody, and the use of close-up will have some viewers wincing no doubt. If you’ve ever wondered what a steak knife entering the soft tissue of an obese man’s neck looks like, you will have the visual image of that for the rest of your life…in all the 4K glory your TV can handle.
Upon exiting the host body, we see Tasya hooked up to a machine that looks like something ripped out of an episode of BLACK MIRROR. It’s clean and clinical, but also fully sci-fi looking. She’s greeted by her employer, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), before exiting the contraption. Tasya begins the disintegration procedure where she familiarizes herself with items that belong to her in order to fully sever any remaining ties between her and the previous host mind. It’s obvious that she’s not 100% but Girder needs Tasya for their biggest job yet. Tasya has been contracted to murder the founder of a data mining firm, Mr. John Parse (Sean Bean), his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton), and her boyfriend Colin (Christopher Abbott). Tasya will complete this task by assuming the identity of Colin. Think of John Parse as one of the super elite. He’s a distinguished businessman who holds the power of something like Google or Facebook at his fingertips. In fact, during one scene that is (sadly) probably not too far off from our real future, we see teams upon teams of low wage “cogs” spying on people through their devices to determine what types of curtains they have, or lampshades…no doubt in order to tailor advertisements to its clients. This is the information John collects and sells.
Tasya tries to shore up her family affairs at home before the big job, but relationships are strained. Her (ex) husband (Rossif Sutherland) and son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot) are a little distant, but not as distant as Tasya. So much so, that we actually see her rehearsing what she’s going to say to them so she seems more like “herself” around her family. Of course, no one is buying it and it’s just plain awkward before she moves on to the big job. Immediately upon entering Colin’s mind and body, it’s clearly Tasya playing Colin. Even Ava notices how off Colin is acting. Tasya tries to calibrate, but the fabric of her mind is quite literally ripping apart. Is she becoming Colin? Is Colin blending into Tasya? It’s a question that we’lll begin to ask ourselves more frequently as the film progresses. Tasya begins to see little artifacts, like vibrations in the air. She keeps telling the company that things are fine, but they are definitely not fine. She becomes more and more distant, more and more lost inside Colin, and more and more confused about her identity, gender, and even her sexuality. POSSESSOR gingerly leads the audience to a third act that is tightly coiled and ready to strike, unleashing mayhem on a biblical scale.
Once Tasya’s mind begins to fragment, all hell breaks loose. Tasya and Colin become aware of each other in the same body, and the winner-take-all stakes are outlined. It would be criminal to describe any further plot details since the amount of mind-blowing moments that lie ahead need to be seen to be fully appreciated. To quote To Kill a Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I’ll just say that POSSESSOR gives that phrase a WHOLE new meaning. To say it’s disturbing is the tip of the iceberg. All of this is happening at a pivotal point in completing Tasya’s contract, as well as achieving any reconciliation with her family. Colin knows too much about her, and her too much about him. After all, at this moment in time they’re kind of the same person. How far will each of them go to complete their goals?
POSSESSOR is a violent ride through the prisons of our own minds. What if we aren’t in control of ourselves, and what if we don’t even know it? What if we think we’re in control only to discover that our desires and primal urges have an agenda all their own? These are just a few of the things I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, and that’s before I’ve even tried to wrap my head around the subtleties of gender identity and sexual politics. The blood and gore are at very high levels, but this really isn’t the point of the film either. POSSESSOR is a hyper-intelligent think piece, disguised as a gory spy thriller. Come for the carnage…stay for the conversation.
“POSSESSOR is a hyper-intelligent think piece, disguised as a gory spy thriller. Come for the carnage…stay for the conversation. “
4 1/2 Tombstones out of 5…