Possessor

Possessor

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Everyone's take on this, at least that I'd read, had been rather lukewarm, so I went in with cautious expectations, and actually enjoyed it far more than I'd thought I would. (I saw the "Uncut" version, for whatever that's worth, the week they finally had it in at the video store.) As a gory cyberpunk thing about corporate espionage, directed by David Cronenberg's son, it's obviously going to earn valid comparisons to, say, "Scanners;" it's more polished, better acted, more smoothly assembled, but also more derivative, less groundbreaking, lacking the shoddy rough charm of "Scanners"' trashy crude B-grade grit. It's right in the target danger zone for the contemporary debates/complaints about the "gentrification of horror" -- which, as a latecomer/part-time-horror dabbler, I don't really have a stake in, other than liking both horror movies and arthouse films and enjoying a lot of stuff from the recent decade in which they've increasingly overlapped.

But I think this is clearly original and unique enough that it doesn't feel frivolous, or unnecessary, or like a remake of anything. A lot of complaints have compared this to "Mandy" and while it does have a similarly slow pace, it's much more aesthetically focused, less self-congratulatorily silly, plus it actually has an end-goal and an actual point, which "Mandy" notably did not. And speaking of Cronenbergs, it lacks his famous fathers' objectionable misogyny-disguised-as-misanthropy, the main reason I find so much of his work so disagreeable.

I liked the way its clever sci-fi premise is explicated through visual storytelling and narrative, rather than through any verbal exposition. I thought it looked gorgeous, how all the effects appear pretty much analog, though I'm sure these days there's a layer of digital whatever happening as well. Those reverse-melting wax faces are fucking incredible! So is that wall-size, screen-filling flatscreen; more than Papa Cronenberg this actually reminded me of an updated Shinya Tsukamoto.

I loved the cast, pretty much everyone is great: Riseborough getting another (albeit brief) chance to steal the show, Gabrielle Graham and Christopher Abbott doing a spectacular job of conveying, through mere facial expressions and subtle body language, that they are a wholly separate character inhabiting an unfamiliar body. I loved all the ways that two minds fighting for control of a body were symbolized visually; the donning of the rubber mask that gives the film its poster image being the most memorable and effective. I loved the peek at entry-level dystopian advertising-panopticon grunt-work where productivity is monitored to the millisecond.

I liked the implication that people feel more able to commit atrocity when it's condoned by the workplace, and when they're able to offload the consequences of their actions onto another party -- in this case, literally another body. And I very much liked the twist that the repercussions of ones actions suddenly become extremely weighty and threatening and present the second you become trapped in that body. While the theme of white people exploiting and controlling nonwhite bodies clearly had its intentions in the right place, the onscreen black death still felt rather tasteless and insensitive and harsh, harder for me to stomach than the copious explicit onscreen gore.

I had thought the whole thing was was heading towards a big confrontation wherein Abbott, back in control of his body, would use his connection Riseborough to track down the company and her pod and exact his revenge; but [spoiler -- I did check the spoilers box] he doesn't, he can only find Riseborough's family, and he kills them, and when I expected that to be written off as a catastrophic failure -- Jennifer Jason Leigh having to step in and retaliate and kill everyone to clean up the mess -- this in fact turns out to just be a calculated acceptable loss, with the final twist that now that her estranged family is out of the way, Riseborough has nothing left to distract her from her job. That resolution initially felt a little underwhelming, but now that I've slept on it, I feel that it's a great one.

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