A New Kind Of Horror Movie From A New Kind Of Cronenberg
Long ago, I interviewed iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg. I was nervous and sweaty and asked him a poorly conceived question about why he directs horror movies and he icily replied that he does not, in fact, direct horror movies. He directs movies about bodies.
Well, so does his son, director Brandon Cronenberg. His new science-fiction horror movie Possessor is a remarkable nightmare that is in direct conversation with his father, who became famous in the late ‘70s and ‘80s for gross-out films about the flesh. The older Cronenberg understands humans are machines made out of meat that leak, fall apart, and explode.
But the younger Cronenberg, however, has more modern obsessions. His new movie is full of sharp things penetrating soft skin and jugular spurts in a way that might make his old man proud. The Cronenberg boys love drawing a line between sex and violence. Like father, like son. But Brandon is concerned with the ways humans hide from other humans, including themselves.
It is 2020, after all, and the faces we wear online are not always the faces that we greet our loved ones with in the morning. The movie asks what happens when a mask becomes self-aware. When an avatar slips to reveal another avatar. It’s a new kind of horror movie.
Possessor is the story of a woman named Vos who kills people for a living. She is an assassin who works for a mysterious group that has developed a special technique that allows their killers to take over the minds and bodies of people close to the target. In a way, she’s a hacker who can assume the form of a woman of color, a white man, anyone.
Once the hit happens all she has to do is put a bullet in her host’s head and she wakes up, ready for a post-murder interview with her boss, played by Jennifer Jason-Leigh (the last time she was in a Cronenberg movie it was 1999’s eXistenZ, a sort of thinking man’s The Matrix.) The interviews are to make sure the Vos is emotionally stable and grounded in reality even though it is clear she is not.
I can’t recommend this movie enough, especially if you’re a fan of cinematically imaginative pulp stories. Possessor is hallucinatory one moment, lurid the next and it hit a real sweet spot for me: an art-house movie that’s also a cool-as-hell thriller. There are no expensive CGI effects in the movie but there are a couple of breathtaking special effects sequences that are richer and more intense because they’re not high-tech.
I am a fan of David Cronenberg — I don’t know why I asked him such a simple question long ago. Nerves. When I first saw The Fly, I knew it wasn’t just a gory monster movie. It was a very human movie about hubris and sickness and corporeal betrayal.
Ah, well. I will know better next time.