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Possessor (2020)
Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Reviewed by C. Keegan
Now Available on 4K UHD and Blu-Ray from Second Sight Films

I’ve always had an interest in movies that (in a semi-realistic way) attempt to tackle our current and future relationship with technology. It’s a balancing act, you want to convey the dangers, but also avoid coming across as an old man yelling at a cloud. As a society, most people have some idea of where technology could go. We’re in an interesting middle period where massive leaps of science seem to happen constantly, but the robot-led dystopian future hasn’t happened (yet). We can already see how tech is used, and it’s implicitly (and explicitly) weaponised against us by corporations. These thoughts are ones I seem to share with Brandon Cronenberg, as it has become a through line between his debut Antiviral and now Possessor.

In a world and time not too dissimilar to our own, utilising a brain-implant technology, Vos (Andrea Riseborough) takes control of other people’s bodies to execute high profile targets. While being groomed for an upcoming promotion, and struggling with her home life, she is assigned a new high profile mission. She loses herself in the role of Colin (Christopher Abbott), son-in-law of a high powered businessman (Sean Bean), with the objective of eliminating his in-law, his wife, and then himself while making it believable enough not to arise suspicion. All so the power of the family business falls in the desired hands.

From its shocking opening scene Possessor establishes itself expertly. Without giving too much away, we get given a glimpse into how a possession assassination would happen, showing the end product without the process, then working backwards. This, along with another scene horrific section involving a mask, feature in a lot of the films advertising and solidifies the films originality and Cronenberg’s flair for visual style. The man knows how to put together a scene. The acting here should also be commended, as Abbott nails one of my personal favourite acting scenarios; playing a character who plays another character. Going two levels deep in a role is always an impressive feat.

Despite it being very well put together, with the occasional shocker of a scene, my enjoyment of the film ends there. Possessor is a film puts itself in weird position where it strips back the story for the sake of general tone, but on some level still tries to act as a commentary. The sparseness of the story ends up leaving the viewer with long stretches of time where you’re just waiting for anything to happen. This is all the while struggling to really say anything aside from a broad point about corporations, and how mass consumer technology works. Then points a finger at something before exploding in sporadic bursts of violence. The issues I have with this film also align with ones I had with Antiviral, where it comes across as though Cronenberg as a writer has come up with a concept he wants to use to kick off a film, but doesn’t really know how to fully realise it.

There’s a very real struggle today with the relationship between how we use technology and identity, theres no consensus on how we should be interacting with the virual vs reality. Cronenberg, describes it saying “people have those moments where either they feel like they need to play a character to present themselves” – I’m sure many can admit to presenting themselves differently online compared to their real life, for example. I think Possessor shoots for a similar target as something like Black Mirror trying to address this. They both build up a universe for a narrative that features an exaggerated version of technology that exists now. The difference is that Black Mirror uses this to tell a human story around this exaggeration, where Possessor doesn’t. It builds the world, distinguishes its look, but struggles to take it further than that.

Rating: ★★½☆☆


Possessor Limited Edition 4K UHD and Blu-Ray Dual Format from Second Sight Films

Second Sight Films 4K UHD and Blu-Ray Release of POSSESSOR

Review by Bat

Second Sight Films have unleashed POSSESSOR on Limited Dual Edition 4K UHD/Blu -ray Box set alongside Standard Edition release on 4K UHD and Blu-ray.

The Limited Edition is presented in a rigid slipcase, featuring new artwork by Marko Manev, along with a 120-page book featuring extensive behind-the-scenes gallery, script-to-screen comparisons and new essays by Stacey Abbott, Anton Bitel, Jon Towlson and Heather Wixson. The UHD and Blu-ray discs both include the main feature and bonus features and the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR approved by the director himself and cinematographer Karim Hussain and looks spectacular!

Both the Limited Edition and Standard Edition releases come with a host of special features on the disc that will allow you to explore the look and feel of Possessor further.

Special Features

Audio Commentary by writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, producer and first assistant director Rob Cotterill, director of cinematography and associate producer Karim Hussein, and special makeup effects artist Dan Martin

As expected, this commentary with the four members of the crew, including the writer/director, is full of insights and background into the making of the film. They talk about things you may not have even noticed, such as the geometrical reflections in the eyes of those possessed, as well as the sort of details filmmakers and fans will love to know, such as where they shot different scenes, how they were shot and the look and feel of the movie. Even though there’s four of them on the track, it’s a well-balanced commentary.

The Unfamiliar Life: An Interview with Writer and Director, Brandon Cronenberg (21 mins 3 secs)

In this interview, with the film projected onto a screen behind the director but also onto the front of his face, Brandon Cronenberg talks about the struggles of bringing Possessor to the screen, admitting that he spent most of his 30’s trying to get the film made. He speaks about the short film he created first, which also is featured on this disc, which was an original idea he had when doing the press tour for his previous movie, Antiviral. He explains about the messy process of the film, having written 30 drafts and kept rewriting it. An interesting and honest interview that shows that things don’t always run smoothly in the world of film, which only makes you appreciate the film more.

Inside The Machine: An Interview with Director of Photography, Karim Hussein (27 mins 5 secs)

Having worked on Antiviral with Brandon, Karim Hussein was familiar with his process of filmmaking. In this interview, he talks about they experimented with filters on the lens for different effects. They first started testing with cameras in 2016, experimenting with distortion, live opticals, rephotography techniques, and projection vortex techniques to create the visuals in camera rather than in post. Karim provides plenty of juicy technical details into how they achieved the look.

Feel The Real: An Interview with Producer Rob Cotterill (24 mins 1 sec)

In this interview, producer Rob Cotterill describes working with Brandon and Karim, having worked with both on Antiviral too. He discusses different aspects of the movie, from financing to casting, and the locations too. Some of it was meant to be shot in the UK but they ended up shooting it all in Canada. He talks about the various issues they had trying to get the film made and how they overcame these issues.

Disassociating From Mind and Body: Zoe Rose Smith on Possessor (24 mins 18 secs)

Zoe Rose Smith narrates a video essay, and talks about how we process emotions and experiences. A very analytical breakdown of depersonalisation.

Camera Test Footage (6 mins 1 sec)

Footage of experiments in effects created in camera, which create some really creepy and disturbing visuals!

FX Show and tell with Dan Martin (10 mins 25 secs)

Workshop and on-set behind the scenes footage shot by Karim Hussein, looking at different moulds, Vos’ mask, head crush and puppets. We also see shots of the final family scene with Vos’ son’s puppet as well as the first target at the beginning of the film with the actor covered in blood.

Archive Featurette: A Heightened World – A Look At Possessor (14 mins 39 secs)

Interviews with the cast and crew on the look and feel of Possessor. Brandon Cronenberg talks about how he pictures the film set in an alternate 2008, blending new and old technology, with wall screens instead of TVs and old cars.

Archive Featurette: Identity Crisis – Bringing Possessor To Life (14 mins 39 secs)

The cast and crew talk about losing identity, taking on another and removing oneself from former identity, such as family.

Archive Featurette: The Joy of Practical – The Effects of Possessor (12 mins 8 secs)

This featurette explores the minor use of CGI and the various techniques and effects done live and in-camera, such as when Vos is fighting for control of the body of Colin.

Deleted Scenes (8 mins 11 secs)

Deleted scenes that didn’t make it into the movie, such as one where Colin, under the control of Vos, meets the client, Ava’s brother, whilst on the job.

Short Film – Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences As They Come To You (9 mins 32 secs)

The film that Brandon Cronenberg created as an early idea for Possessor. A young woman, who’s been implanted with some tech into her skull, is interviewed in a hospital by a man controlling a machine. As he switches through the options, he asks her to relay her experiences, but it’s clear the lines are beginning to blur. An interesting little short that is a seed of what Possessor became.

Trailer (1 min 9 secs)



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