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Review: Possessor – “A glorious atrocity”

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor has been right at the top of my “2020 must-sees”, for what seems like an age. Right above Palm Springs and The Wolf Of Snow Hollow in this never-ending year.

It’s fully deserving of its place.

I have to say, I didn’t expect to watch it in my lounge, bathed in red ambient lighting. And I certainly didn’t think it would be via the BFI player, as part of LFF. Who would’ve expected that? Not me. Yet, like Paul Rudd, here we are.

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I spent the day getting some valuable prep in.

Like father like son, I thought. So well overdue a rewatch of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, I started to acclimatize myself to the body horror that I knew was coming.

I’ve always felt a sense of angst when I know a film may have me wincing a bit. A bit of a thrill, similar to the thought of going on a roller coaster, knowing it might derail. Then, when it’s done, I want to go again. Sure enough, on loading up the 9 PM stream — which thankfully was lag-free — there’s a “graphic violence” warning. Are you sure you want to proceed? Christ. I’ve paid £15, so…. yes?

5 minutes in and Cronenberg lets us know he’s the heir apparent. An audacious, frenzied knifing. First to the neck, then 20 odd times to the body. All in lurid close-up. I couldn’t look away. Blood angels never looked so pretty.

It reminded me of the fire extinguisher scene in Irreversible and, like that, I’m likely doomed to seeing thinking about it at the worst possible time in the future.

But that’s what it’s all about, right? Imagery and sounds that sear through your eyes.

There are images here aplenty, too. Sometimes kinetic, with pulsing strobe lights, as characters “transform”. Others, more sedate, but startling all the same.

Accompanied by an otherworldly score by Jim Williams, who possibly outdoes his phenomenal work on Kill List, the film feels genuinely unnerving from the get-go and it’s proud of it. It knows you’re a little nervous about what’s to come and lingers on your senses. Be it pretty explicit nudity and drug use.

This is a film for adults. Truly eye-popping stuff and nowadays that feels like a rarity.

I felt like I was 10 again, sneaking a watch of a Paul Verhoeven VHS while Dad was at work. Maybe even a Cronenberg Snr film that, like this, always carried that threat of violence.

The film is far more than striking violence, of course. Straddling the line of sci-fi and horror, the basic premise is assassins taking over other people’s bodies to commit kills, then escape the scene of the crime. A high concept premise that wouldn’t be out of place in the Matrix series, except here, it’s played for the horrifying reality that doing that — being that assassin — would come at a cost.

Andrea Riseborough continues to be fantastic, with bold and innovative career choices. But credit too, to the people she inhabits. All of who get decent screen time and a chance to explore how odd it would be — including sex — in someone else’s body.

It’s a curious and fascinating film. Everything is calculated. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Bean are every bit as cult as the film will end up being. They’re both excellent and Brandon knows exactly what he’s doing casting them. He’s a giant. An effing giant. Or at least he could be. His Dad’s grubby mitts are all over this and I don’t say that as a disservice. It gives me a kick, similar to watching American Woman and – to a lesser extent — Morgan, and knowing Sir Ridley will live on.

Bold isn’t the word for this. It’s absolutely incendiary. An eyeball pop here, a blood bath in the kitchen there. Everything is deliberate and you have to applaud it or walk out. There’s no middle ground.

The 80’s vibe and the use of tech that feels both retro and futuristic just gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. This won’t be for everyone. But if it’s for you, my word you’re in for a treat.

What a glorious atrocity.

If they’ve got any balls, they’ll cash in and make a Riseborough mask for Halloween — and maybe even for the next Myers mask, too. Indelible.

“Pull me out”… and roll on Infinity Pool.

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