‘Possessor’ Review: The Cronenbergian Energy is Strong with This One

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Possessor (CREDIT: Neon)

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Rossif Sutherland

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (with R-Level Gore, Sex, and Disturbia)

Release Date: October 2, 2020 (Select Theaters and Drive-Ins)

Human beings are not meant to house two brains in one head. We’ve seen it attempted in various sci-fi movies, and it never works out peacefully. In Possessor, the result is about as rancorous as it’s ever been. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a brilliant assassin, and like a lot of brilliant assassins, her days are numbered. In her case, that’s because she infiltrates other people’s bodies while committing the deeds and her latest host, corporate drone Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), is violently resisting her presence. If you’re in the mood for some internal body horror, you’ve come to the right place.

Possessor was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of body horror master David Cronenberg, and the maxim “like father, like son” certainly applies here. A sex scene is intercut with a stabbing, while a murder sequence features close-ups of an eyeball and teeth getting poked out with a fire poker. You can imagine that this is the kind of movie that the senior Cronenberg would have been making had he come of age during a more digitized era. Which is all to say, Brandon is proudly carrying on the family tradition. With Possessor, he paints us a picture of how violent and blood-splattered it can get when a host fights off a virus. It’s disturbing physically, psychologically, and ethically, but all presented so wonderfully baroquely that you can’t help but be entranced.

Possessor is most satisfying with its aesthetic accomplishments. Various sequences are presented in a monochromatic palette, and a varying monochrome at that. Some mustard yellow here, some blood red there, all contributing to a beautifully distorted sense of reality. One eternally unforgettable image is the mask of Tasya (as seen on the poster) that Colin is attempting to rid himself of, thus conveying a slippery lack of separation between the physical and the mental. The plot is a little harder to parse, but it has enough suspenseful intrigue to keep you engaged. There’s some dialogue that’s difficult to make out, especially from the mumble-prone Abbott, but I imagine that that may be intentional. Possessor feels like exactly the sort of movie that wants you to lean in for you to hear it only to then throw the next highly shocking image right in your face. To which I say, keep leaning in.

Possessor is Recommended If You Like: Devs, Videodrome, The bathhouse fight in Eastern Promises

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Assassinations

This Is a Movie Review: ‘First Man’ Captures All the Stresses of Neil Armstrong’s Trip to the Moon

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CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Universal

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Psychological Fallout of Preparing for Space Travel

Release Date: October 12, 2018

There are a few things I want to say about First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic. First of all, it’s the best I’ve ever seen a film portray the stresses of going up into space. That certainly is not to say that the likes of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 have made takeoff and its aftermath look like a cakewalk, but in focusing on one individual, First Man burrows in and exposes so many extra levels of intensity. We’re right there with Neil as he staggers to the bathroom following a stint in a g-force simulator, and when he endures multiple tragedies. This is a man who must deal with the accidental deaths of multiple colleagues as well as the loss of a young daughter from disease. Accordingly, Ryan Gosling plays him as a man wearing the weight of the world on his face for basically 2 hours straight.

Next, I have plenty to say about Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet. She gives a hell of a performance, displaying the sort of fiery emotion and desperate toughness that you can’t look away from. She is definitely enough of her own person that we can clearly see her as more than just a wife and mother. But this is very much Neil’s film with everyone else orbiting around him, and as such, Foy is playing The Wife. One example of such gender disparity between lead and supporting roles is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is part of a Hollywood history that favors men’s over women’s stories. This is an issue that is better discussed than pontificated upon, so please, let’s continue to have these conversations. And let’s not place too much blame on First Man in the meantime, but instead work to expand what stories are valued by the historical record.

Finally, a note on some technical matters. Composer Justin Hurwitz triumphs with a quiet, but forceful score that gives First Man the stamina it needs to maintain its intensity over 2-plus hours. It is a bit of a lullaby that plants the expanse of space right into our souls in a way similar to how it surely felt for Armstrong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography, on the other hand, while similarly technically accomplished, is more than a little exhausting. A constant (subtly vibrating) handheld setup is just too much to bear for such a significant running time. That’s just one little bit of too much intensity in a film that’s otherwise so acutely calibrated.

First Man is Recommended If You Like: Intimate Biopics

Grade: 3.75 of 5 G Forces

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘It Comes at Night’ Isn’t Just About Paranoia, It IS Paranoia

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This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: R for Frequent Bouts of Vomiting Blood

Release Date: June 9, 2017

A common rule of thumb in horror is that which remains unseen makes for the scariest monsters. What if this guideline were stretched to its furthest limit? Could a total lack of evidence – the unseen itself as a concept – be the ultimate horror? The paranoia-fueled It Comes at Night makes a strong case for just that.

While the titular “It” remains beyond anyone’s perception, its effects are clear and visible right from the get-go. The film opens in a cabin in the woods, that staple of horror film settings, stripped down to its bare essentials. Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) live with their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in a most desolate location. Their first order of business is disposing of Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton), who has succumbed to some sort of deadly contagion that appears to be looming as a threat over the entire world. How far from society has this family removed itself? Or has civilization broken down entirely such that there is no society to detach from? How far into the future does this take place, or is this present day? Does time even matter?

All this uncertainty ensures that no happy ending can come out of someone breaking into Paul and Sarah’s thoroughly boarded-up home. Will (Christopher Abbott), the intruder, somehow manages to get an invitation out of Paul to join them in the house, along with his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), but it is an uneasy peace. The two families divvy up their supplies evenly, but the issue here is not fairness, it is trust, which is impossible to establish. The specter of death in these woods is ever-present but also unknowable – anyone could be its agent, even without intending to be. A simple changing of one’s mind is cause for confrontation.

At the risk of giving too much away, I think it is important to note that It Comes at Night might not exactly be the film that its advertising makes it out to be. This is a major issue at a time when horror hounds expect visceral thrills out of something low-key like It Follows or they anticipate comprehensibility out of something inscrutable like The Witch. It Comes’ trailers give the sense that there is some monster lurking in the woods that is the source of the disease. That might be true, but that is also beside the point. It could also be a government experiment gone wrong, or it could be a nameless, faceless apocalypse-level pandemic. But the prime monster in this slice of the world is paranoia. When the structure of one’s reality breaks apart irreversibly, there is no such thing as security or sanity.

It Comes at Night is Recommended If You Like: The Thing, The Others, The Blair Witch Project

Grade: 4 out of 5 Infections