The first scene of this movie is of a woman searching with her fingertips along her scalp for a small scab, through which she then pushes what looks like an audio jack into her skull. As she twiddles a dial on the attached contraption, she looks in the mirror and her face cycles through from smiles and joy to tears and despair. And that one scene pretty much tells you what you are in for with this movie.

Yes, there is some gruesome physical horror. The violence in this is violent. But that’s not the heart of the horror. Watching the face of someone as the passively experience something horrifying, are made to display or suppress their deepest emotions at will, the lack of control of it all, is disturbing.

Despite being high concept, this is actually a really simple movie. Once you accept the premise – there is an assassin who can, through the use of technology, take control of people and use them to kill targets, then commit suicide, leaving no trace of outside involvement – the plot is very straightforward. A hit goes wrong, and the possessed person comes looking to take revenge on the assassin. It’s a straight murder-revenge.

But that is not to deny all the beautiful nuance instilled into the story by Cronenberg’s directing or by Andrea Riseborough’s performance as the assassin Vos. In fact, it’s the clarity of direction in the story that allows the complexities to be explored without any distractions to cause confusion.

This is just a beautiful film. Contrasting the dull, recognisably familiar, realism of Vos’s home life, with these extravagant, otherworldly sets where she murders the rich. These opulent venues pour through these sumptuous shots, reminding me of stuff like Neon Demon, or even in some ways, the sinisterly colourful Logan’s Run. The use of light, colour, shadow, and distortion expertly creates this crocodile-brain level of discomfort with the abstract experience of being invaded, violated, suppressed, and possessed. The horror of being a passenger in these scenes of orgiastic violence, where bright red blood and white teeth go flying over these elegant surroundings, is conveyed so viscerally.

And enough praise cannot be said of Andrea Riseborough’s performance. After the movie finished, I was surprised to think of how many scenes she’s actually in. The majority of the film focuses on her in the body of actor Christopher Abbott, she only gets about 20 mins at the beginning to establish her character, then she is mostly just a haunting presence, a disembodied voice, or something he sees out the corner of his eye. So how in 20 mins, does she manage to totally hold this film in the palm of her hand?

Here’s the weird thing about Possessor, your sympathy, weirdly, is with the assassin. This film shouldn’t work. That’s not how you tell a story, giving the audience a morally bereft character, who makes no attempt at any redeeming acts, and expect people to root for them. Also, Vos isn’t some charming maverick, or loveable villain, quick-witted and entertaining, someone you love to hate. Vos isn’t trying to win you over despite her flaws. And there’s no apology for the violence she enacts – the horrendous violence, which is much more than her job requires. She’s supposed to just walk up and shoot folk in the head, but she seems to revel in their suffering, stabbing and bludgeoning them. Vos should not be sympathetic.

Yet. She is. Andrea Riseborough makes her seem fragile, vulnerable, barely holding it together, losing her self to the nature of her job. Her tiny island of domestic happiness is something she seems to hold cupped in her hands like the last flickering light of her humanity. And how protective of it she is, makes the audience feel protective of it. Whatever becomes of her, this little house with husband and child, must not be imperilled. And this especially hits home when you see characters walk out of their over-the-top MTV mansions and unreal lifestyle, into the ordinary street of her terraced house. It’s like they’re walking out a high adrenaline action film and into the real world, where real people live. Where the casual violence suddenly becomes horrifying and unacceptable.

Excellent film.

If you like this…

GFF21 – How’s it gonna work?

So 2020 was an absolutely shitty year for pretty much everyone. Thank fuck it’s on its road out finally.

GFF20 managed to go ahead unscathed, but the GFT who run the festival had to shut for the majority of the year, and that effected them financially in a massive way. Luckily Glasgow Film, which runs both the festival and the GFT, is an educational charity and could apply for support as such.

And to narrow the scope of the shittiness of the Covid pandemic down from its global catastrophe to just the purview of this blog – the Glasgow Film Festival – it’s also had an impact on how GFF21 will go ahead.

For the first time, the GFF will run online, as well as in-person cinema showings. It will also run in cinemas outside Glasgow for the first time, all across the UK. Find the list of participating cinemas here – https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival/latest/news/glasgow-film-festival-will-screen-in-cinemas-nationwide-for-2021.

This is good news. The wider the audience and more accessible the festival is, the better. Plus it gives the GFF room to pivot if they do need to close a venue, or if Glasgow comes under tighter restrictions.

I still have a lot of questions about how this is gonna work though. Like, are all films gonna be shown online and in cinema? Or are some being shown in person only, or online only? Are they going to be showing online simultaneous to the in-person showings, so you can watch from home and join in the conversation? Or is it gonna act more like a catch-up after the cinema showings? Will films be available online through the entirety of the festival? Or just within 48 hours or so of the cinema screening? Will the online showings have the same ticket price as the cinema showings? Or cheaper since you’re not getting the cinema experience? There are pros and cons to both those options.

It’s only December now, so more information will follow as time goes on. The full programme is out on the 14th January, so we’ll not have to wait too long into 2021 to find out.

Minari will be this year’s Opening Gala film, which looks great from the trailer. And Spring Blossom is the coming-of-age flick which will finish us off at the Closing Gala. This year the Opening and Closing Gala tickets will go on sale at the same time as the rest of the programme. This flagged a little question mark for me, was it because they were anticipating less demand for GFF21? Or it could be that they are not doing a full event, so there’s no catering and bar to book ahead of time. While I love the Opening and Closing Gala events, (I practically chase the waiters round those things for the canapes), I have to admit, the total scrum at 29 would not be something we would wanna recreate in the time of Covid. Again, no deets yet, but there’s time still for full announcements on that.

Another thing that has been missing, has been any mention of special event screenings. Last year I went to the Train to Busan showing under the Arches, and in previous years they’ve done stuff like showing The Thing on a dry ski slope. All fucking ace, and that stuff usually gets announced around December time ahead of the main programme. No mention of this yet, which could suggest big events are just going to be too difficult to co-ordinate this year. Or maybe they still totally have a line-up of events they’re going to announce later in the month. It is only the 15th after all.

I think probably there has just been a knock-on effect from the GFF team working from home all year, like there has been for all of us, that have meant delays and uncertainty have prevented them from sticking to their usual announcement schedule. Which is extremely understandable.

Regardless, I think GFF21 is going to be awesome. I’m also really looking forward to being able to see all my first choices of films, if I can watch them online at any convenient time, rather than have to pick and choose between clashing screenings.

But for now, I just want to see the back of this god-awful year, the only shining part of which was GFF20 and the great online offerings from Africa in Motion and Take One Action festivals. Fingers crossed for 2021 to come.