‘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: ‘Annihilation’ is a Beautiful Hybrid

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures/Skydance

This post was originally published on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi

Director: Alex Garland

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Gator-Shark Attacks, Giant Bear Attacks, Swirling Intestines, and a Little Bit of Nookie

Release Date: February 23, 2018

Annihilation needs you to trust that sometimes disorientation can be good. Or at least, that it can be exciting. I will admit that disorientation does not necessarily work out so well for this film’s characters. The relative safety afforded the audience in vicariously experiencing this vexing and dangerous journey makes secondhand disorientation easier to defend. But still, I think the message here is the same for both participants and observers: venturing into the confusion is how to make the spectacle happen.

Biology professor Lena (Natalie Portman) has been mourning the disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) ever since he took off for a highly classified military expedition a year ago, when suddenly he just reappears in their house one day. But Kane has essentially no memory of what happened, and it is clear soon enough that there is so much of his mission left to complete. So Lena is recruited by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to join her and her team of scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) to trek into Area X, the coastal location that Kane and many others have gotten lost in, and figure out what the hell is going on there.

I do not recall Annihilation specifying the exact geographical location of Area X. It is possible it did and I just missed it, which can happen when a film mentions a significant detail only briefly. But in this case it is appropriate that I would miss such a detail, whether or not it was actually omitted. Area X is surrounded by a liquidy substance, or perhaps “presence” is a better word, referred to as “a shimmer,” which disorients anyone who approaches or moves through it. When Ventress and her crew first awake in the area, they seem to have immediately lost days, maybe even weeks. If we as an audience feel like we are missing just as many details as they are, then writer/director Alex Garland is probably pulling off what he set out to do. What awaits all of us is a world of wonders that can be explained by science, even though science says they should be impossible.

Flowers of clearly different species are growing on the same branches. The team is attacked by a gator with shark teeth. Plants in the shape of walking humans have sprung up. Eventually these ladies recognize their own blood and DNA swirling and transforming. These combinations are supposed to be fundamentally incompatible according to life as we know it. Lena’s on-the-fly theorizing of this continuous mutation works as a sort of explanation of how mythical hybrid creatures or the monstrosities from genre films could come to exist if they were to exist in reality.

The crew confronts Area X and its inhabitants with a mix of paranoia, wonder, fatalism, and determination. Considering the constant transformation inherent to this setting, it could be argued that all or none or some indefinable combination of these approaches is the right plan of action. Appropriately, it is all rendered by a design and effects team inspiring awe on a thoroughly devastating scale. The lush greenery is both beautiful and explosive. The music, courtesy of Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, is unnerving and entrancing, including a set of reverberating notes that the trailer has already made famous. This intoxicating mix also offers up a series of killer set pieces, including a riff on The Thing’s notorious blood test scene, but featuring the main animal from a creature feature imbued with the Freddy Krueger-style power to maintain the dying cries of its victims.

Annihilation hits that sci-fi sweet spot of a confusing, complicated premise that ultimately explains itself, but not in a way that betrays its intricacies or ambitions, or makes matters particularly comforting. This is visionary cinema, flourishing and fully realizing itself from glorious setup to perfect ending.

Annihilation is Recommended If You Like: The Thing, 2001, Fringe, Cronenbergian body horror, The design elements of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Mulholland Drive

Grade: 5 out of 5 Shimmers

This Is a Movie Review: Robert Pattinson is a Low-Level Bank Robber and Devoted Brother in the Grainy, Queens-Set ‘Good Time’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for the Vices of a Night in the City

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)

How far would you go for a better life for yourself and your brother? If said brother is mentally handicapped and you are the lead character in a crime-on-the-streets movie, then chances are the answer is “pretty far.” Ergo, there is no surprise about the general forces that pushes Good Time along, but the details are quite unpredictable.

The majority of the plot follows Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) in a desperate night through Queens as he attempts to correct his mistakes and bust his brother Nick (co-director Ben Safdie) out of jail following a botched bank robbery. He first attempts to cover the bail money by turning to a friend/lover (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is way too old for him and for her own lack of emotional maturity. But another snag pops up when it is revealed that Nick is under police supervision in the hospital. Connie plows forward with his improvisation, but it becomes more and more obvious that he is not going to pull off his scheme, what with law enforcement always nearby and the caprices of fate constantly messing with him. It all adds up to a night of drugs, mistaken identity, and an empty amusement park in a land where cliché need not apply.

The joys of Good Time – and its biggest weakness – are aesthetic. The Safdie brothers exclusively favor extreme close-ups for conversations and kinetic camera movement when characters go from here to there. The shot selection, combined with the grainy digital cinematography and bass-heavy synth score, create a sensorially overwhelming experience that too few films attempt. The photography does get into a bit of trouble whenever the action moves into especially dark corners, rendering it nearly impossible to make out anything that is happening. That is possibly intentional, but it is not advisable. But in a film with this much clarity and consistency of vision, that is only a minor quibble.

Good Time is Recommended If You Like: Robert Pattinson’s auteur collaborations, Miami Vice, The economic desperation of Don’t Breathe

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dye Packs