Possessor ★★★★½

There are many who would believe that the 70s and 80s gave us the best of the horror genre, if not for the primary colors, strobe lighting, and practical effects then for those famous auteur directors of yore (and gore) and their calling cards. Rewatches only get you so far, so nostalgia and hauntological recapitulation are where it’s at these days. It only makes sense that we’re getting second generation directors cranking up to eleven what their fathers were best known for. Most notably, Jake Scott followed in Ridley’s footsteps to make the android “thriller” Morgan. Perhaps a more relevant example would be Panos Cosmatos whose Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy have found a degree of indie/cult cred that his father George never would have intended to curry favor for, but nonetheless brought renewed interest to the elder’s work. Lately, Brandon Cronenberg is emerging from under the wing of David, a man known for his penchant for body horror and psychological chaos in the face of technological terror.

After the lukewarm reception to his debut Antiviral, young Cronenberg has gone over the Black Rainbow himself with Possessor, a techno-murder chiller that owes as much to the themes and viscera of his father’s early works as it does to Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the later works of Lucio Fulci. Needless to say, enthusiasts of those early torch-bearers of unadulterated flesh-mangling will no doubt get their bloodlust satiated by Possessor just as I did. While the plot may be a bit thin, you really don’t need much of an excuse for Jennifer Jason-Leigh to be the mad scientist who splices Andrea Risenborough’s consciousness into Christopher Abbott in order to carry out a series of brutal corporate contract killings. These actors are no strangers to phantasmagorical squirting arteries after their turns in Annihilation, Mandy, and Piercing respectively.

In terms of sound design and psychedelic in-camera distortions of reality, Possessor is truly the “brown acid” of the year. I can’t imagine any other horror coming close to getting under one’s skin like this (although I have heard that Saint Maud may fit the bill, and I can’t wait to find out for myself). It was nice to feel a real physical reaction to the film however horrible it may be, a reaction not so different from watching Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow back in the spring, though Possessor has less emotional weight to it. It’s equal parts sickening, disturbing, and gleefully titillating in that old, “staying up until 3 A.M. watching slasher flicks and David Lynch on VHS” kind of way. I could understand if it puts off a few people who may think it has the pretense of high art, but rest assured this is shock-schlock of the finest caliber.

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