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Gory and trippy, ‘Possessor’ is one stylishly violent nightmare

Gory and trippy, ‘Possessor’ is one stylishly violent nightmare

Gory and trippy, ‘Possessor’ is one stylishly violent nightmare
October 09
09:42 2020

Content warning: This article contains language and content related to heavy gore and police violence. Reader discretion is advised.

“Sometimes, the small thought is all it takes to lose control.”

In a cyberpunk near future, a corporate assassin by the name of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) “possesses” unsuspecting people to violently kill her targets. During the biggest job of her career, her latest would-be victim, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), begins to slip from her control as she experiences vivid hallucinations and flashbacks. As both wrestle for control, their struggle destroys the lives around them and lots and lots of blood is spilled.

The second film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of DavidThe FlyCronenberg, “Possessor” is one of the most disturbing and gory movies I can remember seeing in a long time. Combining gore with a stylized presentation of corporate dystopia, Cronenberg has successfully presented his influences in his own style, resulting in a one-of-a-kind cyberpunk horror.

The style is what’s on display here — Cronenberg’s visuals are mostly based in a pretty classic cyberpunk style — heavy neon, grey skies and lots of nighttime scenes against glass skyscrapers dominating the backdrop. To not spoil much, the plot takes a couple of cues from “Inception,” itself heavily influenced by cyberpunk, while going in its own direction with them. There are also some neat questions raised about individuality by the climax.

Meanwhile, the gore is some of the most impressive in recent memory — just about every effect is practical and detailed. An eyeball gets popped out of a skull, the fingers of a hand realistically twitch after it has been severed and even gunshots leave behind messy craters of flesh. This is not a movie for the squeamish or easily nauseated.

Still, a stylish and excellently presented world needs good characters and actors to perform. “Possessor” checks this with its two protagonists and supporting cast.

Riseborough’s Vos is one of the more well-layered anti-villains in recent memory. She is clearly stressed by the job and loves her family, but she is also struggling to keep them separate and her job is clearly affecting her ability to maintain her relationships. Meanwhile, Abbott swiftly inhabits both Tate and Vos possessing Tate, gliding smoothly between the two. By the end, he does a good job of blurring the answer to just who is control.

The supporting cast is just as great as well. Jennifer Jason Leigh is chilling as Girder, Vos’s superior. Her often dispassionate treatment of the carnage Vos inflicts contrasts against her seemingly sincere admiration for Vos’s abilities and her own motives. Sean Bean also gets a good couple of scenes as target John Parse, an arrogant CEO with his own issues. There’s a couple more I won’t discuss to guard against more spoilers.

Lastly, Jim Williams’ discordant electronic score undermines all the carnage with another level of disturbing. It’s a good mix of futuristic ambiance with heavy strings and occasional euphoria.

However, there are some minor things to consider, even for those with iron-lined stomachs.

Early on, Vos’s first on-screen victim is Holly (Gabriella Graham), a Black woman whom Vos decides to have violently gunned down by police. While it’s a very tense scene, this scene takes on a new level of disturbing due to recent events, so fair warning.

There is also a lot of strobing and screen-flashing during the second half of the movie, so fair warning to those with epilepsy. The second half also goes to some very out-there places with how Cronenberg depicts Vos and Tate’s tug-of-war for control, and those not prepared will probably get lost. It can be a bit much.

For better or worse, Cronenberg has created a distinctive horror film. While this currently only has a limited run in theaters, it goes to VOD next month and it will certainly be worth the price of admission. “Possessor” is not only one of the best horror movies released this year (even if there’s not much competition), but it’s also one of 2020’s best, period.

Final rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy Elevation Pictures

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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