Possessor ★★★½

Sundance Film Festival 2020: Film #3

After watching his debut film Antiviral, I was convinced Brandon Cronenberg was some day going to become a fantastic director with his own unique vision apart from his fathers. After Possessor, I’m convinced Brandon Cronenberg is some day going to make a masterpiece. 

Possessor isn't that, but it’s an excellent showcase for baby Cronenberg’s command of tone and style. At the drop of a dime, a scene can switch from insular to bombastic with ease. The violence of Possessor has been the highlight of its discussion this Sundance, and to be honest it kinda deserves it. Unlike a pulpy genre flick, the violence is never cathartic. The atmosphere of the theater during its brutal scenes is commanding. We were in the palm of Cronenberg’s hand. It never lets up or let’s itself become a punchline. Gratuitous in every detail and necessary considering it’s themes. It’s all practical and all encompassing. I fucking love it. 

Audio visually Possessor is an absolute beast. Cronenberg isn’t afraid to get really experimental with color during hallucinogenic sequences and he riffs less on his fathers work and more so music videos from the 90s, especially Mark Romanek’s work with Nine Inch Nails. The locations the tone the wonky cinematography Possessor is arresting from its ferocious opening to its messy finale.
Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott command every bit of attention they are on screen. Abbott’s role especially is captivating, considering he is performing as another character performing as his actual character. Considering this and Black Bear he might play five characters in two movies this Sundance I might have actually lost count. He should be in everything. 

Unfortunately Possessor suffers from similar weaknesses in Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier work. Antiviral showcased the directors skills, but the thematic elements of the film were so simple and on the nose that the narrative sputters out and loses steam early. Possessor is the exact opposite. You can read the synopsis right now and feel how huge the scope of the film is. Loss of identity, dysphoria, the prison that is gender roles, desensitization to violence, capitalism and its abuse of minorities of all kinds, and how disposable those lives are to corporations. It’s all there, but Possessor only scrapes at these themes without really diving in to any one of them. I can feel what Cronenberg is trying to say with his sterile tone and clinical cinematography, but by the time the credits roll the narrative and themes feel at odds with each other. I didn’t feel the emotional oomph I wanted to and I really wanted to love it. The feeling especially hurts during scenes where the film is obviously going for explicit statements that ultimately feel more goofy than anything else (the parasite speech ugh and shaky cam of screaming male heads should have never escaped nineties music videos). 

Once Brandon Cronenberg lines up his aesthetic sensibilities with focused themes, he’ll no doubt become a powerhouse instead of the prospect he still comes across as. Possessor is a film oozing with potential, both executed, missed, and regrettably ignored.

Also shouts out to the jet lagged Irish gentlemen who I bought my ticket off of outside the theater to avoid the waitlist I hope you had a good nights sleep!

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