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. 

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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Prisoners of The Ghostland – The Enigma

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

Nicholas Cage, for better or worse, is an enigma. The closer he comes to pure genius, the more obscure and confusing the slew of throwaway schlock he frequently indulges in appears. For every Mandy (2018) we are permitted to gleefully enjoy, so are we forced to endure a Willy’s Wonderland (2021) or Kill Chain (2019). He is an actor who seems eager to show off his chops and bask in his own talent, while also perfectly happy to fund his more artistic endeavors by screaming maniacally through one cheap, talentless production after another. In 2021 he starred in Prisoners of The Ghostland.

Prisoners of The Ghostland (2021), the latest film by Japanese director Sion Sono, oddly lies directly in the middle of these two known Cage archetypes. With a distinct gonzo vibe, and a sense of humor that ranges from the campy to the downright absurdist, this latest experiment in Cage-rage feels like a hyper-vivid mashup of Mad Max (1979) and surrealist neo-western, all through a filter of feverish b-movie grit. Insane choices abound in production, the actors being forced to take a script seriously that sounds as though it was written by a film-obsessed, adhd-riddled pre-teen. If that sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably love this one. I am personally on the fence.

Prisoners of The Ghostland has a rather grandiose feel, as though we are viewing a classic epic from an alternate, altogether weirder, timeline. Taken for what it is, it can be a fun ride, though a lot of time is given to slow, sombre scenes that cut tiresomely into the film’s energy. We are forced to watch, on repeat, the tragic incident that led Cage’s character into his explosive predicament, without being offered much more information each time we are shown it. These particular scenes detract heavily from the campy, tongue-in-cheek edge that films of its ilk thrive on, leaving doubtful its ascension to cult classic status.

Prisoners of The Ghostland scene featuring a man with a spear arm fighting a man with a sword

Sion Sono has a penchant for the weird and seemingly random, and his teaming up with Cage should have been a match written in the stars. Sadly it more serves as proof that more than visual flair and an abundance of oddities are needed to make even a b-movie great. All the ingredients are there, though something in the execution is simply lacking in any kind of real engagement. Through awkward and drawn-out conversation we never learn enough about any one character to allow any kind of development, and most interactions seem to be intended to confuse rather than enlighten. It is the kind of picture one could watch at least five or six times before realizing the deeper meaning they were looking for is actually not there at all.

For those who can bask in strange without feeling the need to look much further, the vibrant and colorful visuals of Prisoners of The Ghostland coupled with its eccentric cast and true attention to madness should provide ample entertainment for a late-night viewing.

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