I feel bad when I describe films like Bit as mediocre. There's probably some justified reason behind the scenes that explains why it struggled. I have no idea about the circumstances behind the making of it or the filmmaker's resources. Yeah, its quality can't compare to the mind trip of an indie film like Ganja & Hess (1973) or the artistry of today's Possessor (2020). But just because it didn't impress me as much doesn't necessarily mean Bit is a 'worse' film. It's certainly easier to recommend Bit to someone who wants escapism. So maybe my reviews should focus less on my opinion of a movie's quality, and more about what a viewer should expect going in. Then again, I don't know who might be reading. One reader may be interested in whether a movie compares with their arthouse faves. Another wants to evaluate whether they should watch said movie during their feel-good popcorn time. Another still, is eager to read the spoiler-filled analysis. Then my reviews should try to accommodate for all potential readers? Maybe I shouldn't care and write for myself. No one else is reading, anyway. Right?
I'm rambling. My point is that Possessor has a strong cast and is lavish and unique and top-tier sci-fi horror... And it's quality has to do with Brandon Cronenberg's talent, but also comes from the privilege of being the son of David Cronenberg. It's not like he had a choice to be born a Cronenberg, but he has that privilege nonetheless, an advantage in the venture to make art beyond mediocrity. I'm glad that he made full use of his power to make Possessor. To echo the theme of Bit and perhaps even Possessor: if power were spread around, other filmmakers would have the breathing room to make works equally as ambitious or with the same passion but campy instead. Anyway, with that context out of the way, let's put aside Cronenberg and look at his movie.
Possessor is one hell of a sci-fi concept that doesn't hold back. It's set in a near-future dystopia not to dissimilar from our own (we live in a dystopia, btw) where a mysterious corporation uses possession tech to enact assassinations via a host's body. The clients get what they want without getting their hands dirty, while the host takes the blame (and is made to kill themselves). The company possessor suffers the trauma. It's a high-concept idea audiences might expect from Christopher Nolan, but taken to its horrific conclusion. What I mean is that Possessor is not palatable to the mainstream because of its unrelenting morbidity and extreme violence. I imagine the R-rated version is less graphic. Although avoiding the 'Uncut' version means losing out on a few shots of explicit nudity. These cut frames aren't even gratuitous. One shot evokes transness in an explicit view we rarely see in cinema. I'd prefer a version that lessened the violence over the sex/nudity.
Possessor really wants you to feel the trauma of its characters. If you're not ready to experience frequent visceral graphic murder, you better be moving on. Stick through it and the film rewards you with some inspired practical effects and haunting imagery. That and a fresh take on the body swap concept made thrilling with a powerful and tragic performance by Christopher Abbot. The film made me feel discombobulated, yet it's not the type of movie with an ambiguous narrative. Its messaging is clear enough without the need for pandering exposition. Admittedly, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because of its execution, but because of its content. Possessor was exhilarating for the most part, but at the credits I surmised it was more a film I appreciated than one I thoroughly enjoyed.
*** spoilers and content warning ahead ***
BEWARE: as mentioned above, this film is extremely violent and gory, more so in the Uncut version. Example: The Uncut version includes a close up of an eyeball being plucked out of a seemingly dying man. Both include the murder of a child, one more graphic than the other. See comparisons between the two cuts at movie-censorship.com.
I can't believe I sat through a close up of Sean Bean's eye getting scooped out. That must mean the film successfully desensitized me by that point. I even sat through that poor kid's brains being blown out. That was the most upsetting moment. The narrative justified the violence, at least. Had this been a typical slasher film, it would've been much less tolerable. It helped that Possessor enticed me with its central theme.
It's a hardcore movie about coercion that can be interpreted as an analogy for trans or queer identity. Though it's more directly about the exploitation of workers in an unjust society. Those at the top get what they want without consequence, while the lower rung get used and spit out without consideration for their well-being. Even the managerial class buys into the hierarchy and system of capitalist coercion: Jennifer Jason Leigh as Girder. She nonchalantly admits to Tas (Andrea Riseborough) that's she's being prepared as her replacement. Girder just wants to take the backseat role and have the younger generation continue the vicious cycle. Presumably Tas will eventually recruit her replacement and so on and so forth. Of course, Girder is a victim, too. She was once in Tas's position, also continually desensitized to become an ever more compliant worker. Meanwhile, the bosses from corporate reap in the profits, unscathed. Too bad the movie doesn't make time to show the sociopaths behind it all.
This has been day 27 of 31 days of horror.