‘We’re all hackable’ warns ultra-violent body-swap horror creator

'Possessor: Uncut' — Picture courtesy of Neon
'Possessor: Uncut' — Picture courtesy of Neon

LOS ANGELES, Oct 2 — Releasing a horror film in 2020 presents a challenge: How do you compete with a deadly pandemic, raging protests over racism and the most viciously polarized US election in recent memory?

For Brandon Cronenberg — son of legendary director David Cronenberg — making an ultra-violent movie about corporate assassins who control other people’s bodies through mind-hacking technology felt more appropriate than ever.

“If you look at Russian interference in the US elections, I think we’re only just now starting to realise what it means to be a completely online society,” he told AFP of Possessor: Uncut.

“We’re all in a sense hackable, and there’s no way to close that door,” he said. “That is human society now, and it will be interesting and possibly terrifying going forward to see what that means.”

The movie follows cerebral hitwoman Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) as she takes over an oblivious victim (Christopher Abbott) and launches him into a horrific murder spree targeting an Orwellian CEO played by Sean Bean, who appeared in Game of Thrones.

Released in theatres today by NEON — behind last year’s historic Oscar winner Parasite — it has received rave reviews, but does not stint on highly graphic depictions of violence.

Hardened critics gasped during its January world premiere at the Sundance film festival.

“Violence in films should be visceral and disturbing — it’s more unsettling to me to see a PG-13 action film where 100 people die and nobody bleeds,” said Cronenberg.

“If you’re not taking violence seriously as a filmmaker, you’re trivializing it. I think that is a more dubious position than showing it explicitly.”

‘Death of privacy’

The film imagines an alternate, dystopian version of our present, in which “physically controlling the brain through electrical impulses” has become a reality.

It is a vision familiar to fans of Black Mirror — a dark tech-focused TV series that “has kind of cornered the market on this near-future sci-fi satire, and become a genre, in and of itself,” said Cronenberg.

One episode of Black Mirror saw police investigate murders through literally downloading the image memories of potential witnesses.

In Cronenberg’s film, the killers taking control of their victims’ bodies “stands in as a metaphor for that kind of surveillance,” said the director.

He wrote his film during the high-profile leaks from Edward Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor who revealed a National Security Agency mass surveillance program.

“I was feeling very angry about the death of privacy through technology, and the fact that governments were willing to violate privacy to that degree,” said Cronenberg. 

‘More hate’

The movie’s eye-popping gore will come as no surprise to viewers familiar with the haunting work of Cronenberg’s father.

David Cronenberg pioneered “body horror” including Oscar-winning mutant sci-fi The Fly, and directed the controversial Crash — a thriller about sexual arousal and car crashes that won a special Cannes festival prize.

But its stars insist the gruesome depictions of Possessor are justified.

Riseborough told AFP the film’s violence is “honest,” but added: “The morality of whether that should or shouldn’t then be represented externally, or on screen, is sort of a different question.”

Cronenberg admitted: “I thought we would be getting more hate.” — AFP

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