Possessor – Your Actions Are Not Your Own

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Possessor is the new horror film exercise in psychological science-horror from Brandon Cronenberg, son of David ‘The Baron of Blood’ Cronenberg himself. For those who don’t know, The Baron brought us such shockers as Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome and an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the 80s, as well as the deeply unsettling The Brood in 1979. His work with gore and outlandish practical effects earned him a legendary status in the world of horror, and if Possessor is anything to go by, his son is taking the baton with heavy enthusiasm and a deft hand. 

Have you ever felt that your actions are not entirely your own?

Possessor is Brandon Cronenebergs debut feature film, following a slew of surreal shorts such as 2019’s Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You, and hopefully serves as a first real look at a bright directorial future. With skills like these, it would seem a waste not to.

Visually, the film is stunning. The vibrant colour palettes and psychedelic slow-mo sequences remind me heavily of Panos Cosmatos, which can only ever be a good thing, and fit perfectly with the stark, often expressionist imagery used to depict strange conceptual mental processes to a high artistic degree. The cinematography by Karim Hussain feels alive yet purposeful, only intending the greatest effect for each scene. The settings in which these scenes play out feel gritty and earthly which works alongside the light sci-fi themes to give proceedings a rough, nasty edge. This edge is sharpened to its apex by the violence itself, which is where Possessor derives a good deal of its horror. 

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Zagone Studios masks and costumes

It looks downright horrific in places. Whereas more high-concept sci-fi commonly employs computer-generated violence and gore, a lot of the time among a computer-generated background, Possessor makes heavy use of practical effects to create a borderline grindhouse feel, it’s sudden acts of realistic, disturbing and brutally savage violence bringing the gut-dropping style of Craig Zahler in films such as Brawl in Cell Block 99, though to a more refined degree. 

possessor horror movie poster featuring a screaming woman

Possessor’s dreamy synth score by Jim Williams perfectly compliments each scene it is needed, often lurking in the background to invoke greater dread from it’s slow-burning second act while sometimes swelling and exploding to punctuate the more abstract happenings for greater meaning and impact. It fully expands on the film’s hallucinatory sci-fi atmosphere, while sickening sound effects boost each savage kill to its full effect. 

Being more on the light, conceptual sci-fi end of the spectrum, Possessor’s character-based plot relies heavily on its actors and aesthetic, using it’s basis of ‘entering the mind of other people to carry out covert kills’ as a vehicle for its own nasty, nihilistic take on a character arc. Some warm, believably human elements are at play, making the overlaying ethos and point of the film all the more disturbing. Its squirming, corrupt nature is reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, though omitting its self-aware winks for an even darker, more consequential message. This style of film benefits greatly for the thematic blend on show here, looking back at science-horror precursors such as Harlan Ellison’s short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream where ideas of humanity are irreverently twisted and spat at in place of a colder logic, a darker horror. 

Possessor plays with themes of consciousness, though never becomes self indulgent when doing so. It uses these themes to further its artistic vision, with some psychologically internal sequences playing out like music videos. The pacing of the film bleeds intent as a slow burner punctuated with sudden hyper-violence, this coupled with the sharp and meticulous visuals giving the finished product a very ‘A24’ feel.

Possessor is meditative and clever. It won’t hold your hand with pointless exposition, nor will it try to confuse you with arrogant sci-fi contrivances. It is a skillfully executed offering of disturbing cerebral horror and I for one hope to see much more from the Cronenberg name. Long live the new flesh.

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