The same thing always happens. A movie gets hyped, I buy in and get excited, then watch it and am mildly interested in it and wonder what all the fervor was all about. It happened all over again with Possessor (or Possessor Uncut), which is not the alternate title to Horror Express (©Bill Van Ryn for that joke), it’s not one of the movies within a movie within Popcorn and it is certainly not the other title — The Possessor — for the 1975 Italian film The Return of the Exorcist (which also goes by the names Exorcist 3: Cries and Shadows, The Possessor, Un Urlo Dalle Tenebre and Naked Exorcist).
The film starts interesting enough, as we watch a woman (Gabrielle Graham) insert a needle inside her head and attach it to a machine. She then goes to work at a party where she repeatedly stabs a man, then nearly turns a gun on herself before the police shot her. It turns out that she’s controlled by a possessor named Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), which means that she can directly implant her mind into someone else and use them to kill people.
As her boss (Jennifer Jason Leigh, always a welcome actress) talks her through the end of the assignment, Tasya must identify objects from her past to prove that she is still herself. That’s another lie, as she can barely speak like a normal human being when she meets her ex-husband (Rossif Sutherland) and son.
But there’s no time to consider that. There’s another job, as they have been hired to kill the owner of a data mining company, which excites everyone because they’ll be able to control the company by blackmailing the man who hired them. They use the owner’s daughter Ava’s boyfriend Colin (Christopher Abbott) for the hit, but for the first time, the company doesn’t have all of the answers. And even after he completes half the job, killing his girlfriend — yet only wounding her father — he takes back over and causes Tasya to vomit blood.
Can Tasya complete her assignment and get her mark to kill himself so she can be released? Or is this her final possession? And how does her son get involved?
The main reason most have discussed this film is because it was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of, well, you know. This definitely has style, the colors and camera angles are gorgeous but there’s an icy edge that ill serves the movie to me. It’s as if we are as much on the outside looking in as the titular possessor. I wanted to feel more, to get really excited about it and to find a new favorite, but it was just good.
And I learned, yet again, that hype can really sell a movie, but once it’s playing in front of your eyes, it’s your call whether or not you really enjoy it. But hey — your experience may vary and you might completely adore this. Also, knowing me, once Brandon Cronenberg’s second movie is hated by everyone else — see this same story played out in Under the Silver Lake and Southland Tales — I’ll fall in love with one of his movies.
That said — it has a psychic possession threeway, so there’s that. And oh yeah — of course he points to Argento as an influence, which makes sense, as this film is awash in dream imagery and primary colors. There’s also female as male as female — or whatever the possessor is — full frontal nudity, if you’re looking to get your mind blown.
There are some great ideas and images here, so I’ll definitely keep an eye on what comes next.