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REVIEW: ‘Possessor’ Feels Like a Depravation Tank Induced Hallucination

Possessor
Credit: NEON / © 2019. RHOMBUS POSSESSOR INC. / ROOK FILMS POSSESSOR LTD.

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You can’t help but admire the artistic style and vision of Brandon Cronenberg in his new film ‘Possessor.’  His method of direction here is innately visceral. Colors, music, and melting visuals (sometimes literally) flash across screen with such ferocity that the film feels more like a depravation tank induced hallucination that feature film. This approach leads to a powerful, if not overwhelming, sensory experience.

This style, though, also overwhelms the narrative of the film.

There is a lazy cliche out there, “style over substance”. It really means nothing, as the style of something contributes to the substance of that said something, but the gist of it seems to apply here. Less, “style over substance” and more “theme over story”.

One can heavily feel the themes and the visual art of ‘Possessor,’ to the point that it is clear that it is where Cronenberg’s interest and intent was. The story never seems a part of that intent. Instead, the narrative is a quickly assembled container for the aforementioned visuals and the tactile exploration of the theme of self and free-will.

In this way, ‘Possessor’ plays as an art installation instead of a traditionally narrative film. 

Possessor
Credit: NEON / © 2019. RHOMBUS POSSESSOR INC. / ROOK FILMS POSSESSOR LTD.

Cronenberg is interested in visually exploring very specific ideas and themes. He seems far less interested in telling a story.

The decision, then, is in the hands of an audience if ‘Possessor’ is a success or not. Some will find the lack of unifying story as opaque and aggravating. Others will wonder at the flashing images that explore the idea of self.

In the end though, it would be hard to identify ‘Possessor’ as traditional storytelling. This lack of story, and the resulting heavy-handed implementation of theme, makes the running time a challenge. The visuals and the style overstay their welcome as they limp behind an underdeveloped story while one-dimensional characters stumble about from set-piece to set-piece. 

Credit: NEON

‘Possessor’ would have probably been a powerful short film, where the medium allows for more exploratory freedom. With a running time of approximately two hours, though, the medium of feature film results in ‘Possessor’ tepidly treading in repetitiveness, opaque boredom, and sleepy meandering. 

Brandon Cronenberg is a visual talent, he understands the effect of imagery and the art form of displaying the unspeakable. We all feel the weight of the ideas found within this film. We all struggle with our own definition of who we are, why we decide to do what we do, why we are what we are. Cronenberg and his directorial style captures this with intense and sometimes shocking artistry.

As a storyteller though, Cronenberg seems mostly disinterested. The story seems to be an afterthought and unimportant. The ending of the film, which is intended to be tragic and devastating, is less than affective because the weight of the characters within it was never truly established. Cronenberg leans on the archetypes of these familial and social relationships to carry the heft of the narrative instead of creating characters with layers that become intimate and sympathetic to an audience. This leaves the ending, and the narrative in general, feeling academic and cold. So, as viscerally and artistically impressive as ‘Possessor’ is, it feels shallow and cold as a story.

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