Possessor ★★★½

Hooptober 7!!! -- 31/31

If you want to see people's bodies get stabbed about 50 times, boy do I have the movie for you. Brandon Cronenberg adds his own twist to the sort of movies his dad made. There's a similar throughline of people in too deep, losing control and ultimately not recognizing themselves. And obviously there's loads of blood and other nightmarish imagery. This time the story is a high concept sci-fi about technology that allows its user to temporarily take over the body of another person. Of course, for enough money, innovations are always available to be used in the absolute worst way possible, so this invention allows for the world's greatest assassinations, performing them by proxy. Yes, it does resemble a Black Mirror film. To match this high tech setting, Brandon distinguishes himself from his father in part by giving his movie a much more glossy, extravagant visual design. It's fitting, and the surreal detours are disturbing in an abstract way. Even when the horror is literally screamed at us, it's often fragmentary and implied. There's a certain brand of arthouse filmmaking that David Cronenberg never quite went for on display here.

This all works wonderfully as a creepy, thrilling time on the face of it, and I find what it's in service of admirable. This thing is lofty -- the premise comes with a built in exploration of constructed identities, particularly in the way that the protagonist practices lines to say in her real life the same way she does for anyone she is possessing. But it's not content to stop there, by any means. It's no accident that the main plotline sees a woman inhabiting a man's body, as so much time is spent on emphasizing penetration imagery, lots of penis shots, and blurring identity during intercourse. It's never quite clear how much our protagonist can't stop being this man versus how much she just doesn't want to. It's only communicated visually, but there is an easy read of this film into trans or other gender identity topics. There's of course also the reading about fear of modern technology, only further helped by the incredibly invasive data harvesting (looking straight through webcams) that occurs in the workplace. It really swings for the fences; I'm sure there is more to be interpreted and I even have a few plot points in my mind that I'm not able to fit to any thematic reading just yet.

Though I just don't think it's fully realized, at least not in a way that satisfies me. In focusing so much on concepts and unsettling montages, the characters can get a little lost. This is primarily a story about the possessor and the primary man she possesses. Before they meld, here's what we know about both of them. Her: this is a job she has done before and seems to be good at, and she has a family that she seems attached to but can't bring herself to stay with. Him: he works at a data harvesting company and is dating the boss's daughter. The issue becomes that Cronenberg wants us to work to interpret what is happening; two selves are vying for control, melding together, breaking apart. Leaving room to draw our own conclusions is great, but it's filling in a nearly blank canvass. If I try to tell you anyone's true desires or who was in control at any given time, I may as well be the character writer. That can still be fun, but there's just nothing solid to work off of.

Nonetheless, it's great fun to watch. While it didn't fully stick the landing for me, I'd absolutely recommend it, and this is respectable for an early effort as both writer and director. David Cronenberg made better movies than this at times, but I'd say he also made worse movies. There's a lot of promise for the future.


And that wraps up Hooptober 7! It's been great fun, and I loved quite a few of the movies I watched (both Noroi: The Curse and Pulse even made my newly updated top 100). I'm going to continue watching horror for the rest of the month, just pulling whatever interests me from the watchlist. Happy (early) Halloween, and see you all next year! <3

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