Review: ‘The World to Come,’ starring Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott and Casey Affleck

February 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston in “The World to Come” (Photo by Toni Salabasev/Bleecker Street)

“The World to Come”

Directed by Mona Fastvold

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1856, in a rural area of Schoharie County, New York, the dramatic film “The World to Come” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two farmers’ wives have a secret love affair with each other while unhappily married to their husbands.

Culture Audience: “The World to Come” will appeal primarily to people are interested in well-acted dramas about LGBTQ romances and how people cope with being in unhappy marriages.

Katherine Waterston and Casey Affleck in “The World to Come” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea/Bleecker Street)

The dramatic film “The World to Come” skillfully immerses viewers into a world filled with layers of oppression for the story’s two female protagonists. The two women are stifled by being in miserable relationships with their husbands; society’s bigotry against same-sex romances; and living in an era where wives could be considered property by their husbands. It’s a story that shows in understated yet poignant details how someone’s greatest love and passion could also be that person’s greatest heartbreak.

Directed with emotional intelligence and sensitivity by Mona Fastvold, “The World to Come” is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical short story in the 2017 collection, each titled “The World to Come.” Shepard and Ron Hansen adapted the short story into the movie’s screenplay, which is told from the point of view of a farmer’s wife named Abigail (played by Katherine Waterston), whose diary entries are read in voiceover narration. The movie takes place primarily in 1856 in a rural area of Schoharie County, New York, but “The World to Come” was actually filmed in Romania to capture the type of landscape that no longer exists in that part of New York.

Abigail is an introvert who begins keeping a personal diary of her thoughts, after her husband Dyer (played by Casey Affleck) suggested that she keep a business journal for the farm, such as tools lent out and outstanding bills. Abigail begins her diary in January of 1856, and her subsequent voiceovers over the next several months are told with the dates in chronological order.

Dyer, just like Abigail, is quiet and unassuming. They seem to have an ordinary life with their daughter Nellie (played by Karina Ziana Gherasim), who’s 4 years old. But a tragedy strikes that puts both Dyer and Abigail down a path of depression and emotional turmoil.

By February of that year, Nellie has died from diphtheria. Abigail and Dyer, who are already introverted people, become more withdrawn from each other. Not long after Nellie’s death, Dyer becomes ill with a fever, which puts the productivity of the couple’s farm in jeopardy. (They are the only apparent people who work on the farm.)

Abigail barely has time to grieve while taking care of her ailing husband when another farmer couple moves nearby and unexpectedly changes Abigail’s and Dyer’s lives. Tallie (played by Vanessa Kirby) is a vibrant redhead, while her husband Finney (played by Christopher Abbott) is a brooding control freak. During this very depressing time in Abigail’s life, she writes in her diary: “I have become my grief.”

Dyer eventually recovers from his fever, but he and Abigail remain emotionally distant from each other. They refuse to discuss the death of their daughter, because it seems to be too painful for them to even talk about it. Abigail is expected to help Dyer with farm duties, but soon she’ll have someone who will be taking up a lot of her time and attention.

The first time that Abigail is shown talking about Nellie’s death to another person is in her first conversation with Tallie, who has stopped by Abigail’s home for a neighborly visit. Abigail and Tallie’s first conversation happens to be on the day that would have been Nellie’s fifth birthday. When Abigail tells Tallie this information, unbeknownst to the two of them, it’s the birth of something else: a budding romance between Abigail and Tallie.

The two women become fast friends and eventually confide in each other about their deepest feelings. But the respective marriages to their husbands are never that far from their minds. It’s easy for anyone to see that the passion has dwindled in Abigail and Dyer’s relationship. Tallie and Finney’s relationship is not as easy to read, although Tallie tells Abigail: “I suppose he’s unhappy with me because I have yet to give him a child.”

As Abigail says in one of her diary entries that she reads in a voiceover: “Finney and Tallie’s bond confounds me. At times, when their eyes meet, they seem yoked in opposition to one another, while at other times there seems a shared regard.” Abigail remarks in her diary about her growing romantic feelings about Tallie: “There is something going on between us that I can’t unravel.”

Abigail becomes fully aware of how deep her feelings are for Tallie after Tallie becomes ill from being caught in a snowstorm. Abigail becomes distraught over wondering if Tallie will recover. The snowstorm killed about half of the chickens on Abigail and Dyer’s farm, so the couple will be experiencing some hard times in the near future. However, Abigail is more worried about Tallie’s recovery than the farm’s financial loss from the snowstorm.

Tallie seems to appreciate Abigail’s introverted nature when Tallie tells her: “It’s been my experience that it’s not always those who show the least who actually feel the least.” And Abigail describes their blossoming love affair this way in her diary: “I imagine that I love how our encircling feelings leave nothing out for us to wander or seek.”

One day, Tallie gives Abigail an atlas, which is almost symbolic of their wishful thinking of how they could run off together and travel around the world. By the month of May, Tallie and Abigail’s romance of hand holding and hesitant kisses turn into more passionate displays of affection, and they eventually become secret lovers. Their infidelity to their husbands doesn’t come without feeling guilty about it, but Tallie tries to brush it off by telling Abigail: “I hear intimacy builds good will.”

Dyer and Finney can’t help but notice that their wives are spending more and more time together, sometimes for several hours a day. Dyer expresses frustration that Abigail’s devotion to Tallie has come at the expense of Abigail doing work on the farm. Dyer is annoyed, but he doesn’t become abusive about it.

By contrast, Abigail starts to see signs that Tallie is being abused, such as bruises and how Tallie seems genuinely fearful of Finney, while Tallie tries to pretend that everything is fine. Abigail also tries not to think about something Tallie told her soon after they first met: Finney is thinking about moving further west with Tallie. Later in the story, the two couples have dinner together at Tallie and Finney’s home. And it becomes very clear how cruel Finney can be.

The romance of Abigail and Tallie isn’t really a “sexual identity” story, because the movie never makes a point of declaring what their sexual identities are. There’s no big speech or enlightenment moment that Abigail and Tallie have about why they fell in love with each other. Viewers can speculate that Abigail and Tallie are closeted lesbians or bisexuals, or viewers can speculate that Abigail and/or Tallie don’t care what gender their love partner is. In 1850s America, there really were no specific terms for LGBTQ people, and the subject of any non-heterosexuality was so taboo that it was rarely discussed out loud.

“The World to Come” is really about showing how two lonely people met each other and filled a void in each other’s lives. In Tallie and Abigail’s private conversations, it’s clear that Tallie is more sexually experienced and less sheltered than Abigail, even though Abigail is older than Tallie. Abigail mentions that she married Dyer out of convenience, because he was the older son of a neighbor. By contrast, it’s hinted that Tallie is very aware of her allure and had her pick of suitors before she married Finney. It’s implied that Abigail was probably a virgin when she got married, while Tallie was not.

These hints about their sexual history provide some context for what happens later in the story and how Abigail and Tallie react to obstacles that inevitably occur in their relationship. Abigail is the only person who makes Tallie happy, and vice versa, but Abigail has the added emotional agony of losing a child. It explains why there’s a desperate way that Abigail wants to cling to her relationship with Tallie, no matter what the cost.

Waterston, Kirby, Affleck and Abbott all give commendable performances in their roles. As the story goes on, there’s a noticeable change in the personalities of Abigail and Tallie that Waterston and Kirby express in poignant ways. Abigail starts off very shy and unsure of herself, but becomes more determined and outspoken after she falls in love with Tallie. Meanwhile, Tallie starts off as more of a fun-loving free spirit, but she slowly loses her confidence under the burden of being in an abusive marriage.

Affleck’s Dyer stays on a fairly even keel of being a mournful spouse who has trouble expressing his emotions, but Dyer is someone who hasn’t completely lost his humanity and compassion. Abbott’s Finney is the most complex person of the four because, just like many abusers, Finney has a charismatic side and is skilled at fooling people into thinking that he isn’t as bad as he really is. There’s a scene in the movie that also realistically demonstrates how people who suspect domestic abuse often don’t want to be involved in reporting it or helping a suspected victim.

“The World to Come” is not a groundbreaking film, nor is it going to appeal to people who aren’t interested in deliberately paced dramas that take place in the 1800s. Some viewers might also be slightly annoyed by the film’s constant voiceovers by Abigail. However, her writings are a subtle nod to how articulate and intelligent Abigail is, considering that she was not a wealthy woman with the means to get a higher education, in an era when women were discouraged from being as educated as men.

Fastvold’s unfussy directing style is exemplified by the technical choices made in the movie’s costume design, production design and musical score, which all complement the creative aspects of the film without being overwhelming. The farm folks in this story live simply and quietly. If the movie had made Tallie and Abigail’s romance a big melodrama, it wouldn’t ring true for this rural culture of people who live discreetly and don’t want to call attention to themselves.

The actors in this movie’s relatively small cast make the most out of this intimate snapshot of a year in the life of these four people who have been damaged in some way by disillusionment. Tallie and Abigail experience glimmers of hope and a purpose to live because of the unexpected love that they found with each other. But it’s a love where people will inevitably get hurt, and decisions are made on how much of that love is worth any personal sacrifices.

Bleecker Street released “The World to Come” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is March 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Black Bear,’ starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon

January 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott in “Black Bear” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

“Black Bear”

Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the dramatic film “Black Bear” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman with apparent emotional problems is at the center of chaos during a potential love triangle.

Culture Audience: “Black Bear” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted independent films that make people question what is real in the story and what might be the imagination of a character in the story.

Sarah Gadon in “Black Bear” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

People who prefer movies with a straightforward narrative probably won’t like “Black Bear” very much, because the movie is divided into two very distinct stories, with one abruptly transitioning into the other without any explanation until the last few minutes of the movie. The three main actors in the movie portray different characters with the same names in each story. And this switch in characters might confuse viewers. Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, “Black Bear” is nonetheless worth watching for anyone who wants to see some good acting with compelling dialogue, even if the movie is somewhat erratic.

That uneven tone is because the movie’s first story, titled “Part One: The Bear in the Road,” is much better than the second story, titled “Part Two: The Bear by the Boat House.” Each story takes place at a lake house in the same wooded area in an unnamed part of upstate New York. (“Black Bear” was actually filmed in Long Lake, New York.) In each story, someone hears bear noises nearby. And then, a black bear shows up at a pivotal moment.

Each story begins with a scene of a woman (played by Aubrey Plaza) wearing a red one-piece swimsuit, looking contemplative and sitting cross-legged on a pier, with mist swirling around her. She then goes into a nearby house, sits down at a table, and opens what looks like a journal. Is this real or is it a dream?

In “The Bear in the Road” story, viewers find out that the woman is named Allison, an independent filmmaker who has rented the cabin-styled house as a retreat space to get over her writer’s block. Or so she says. Allison, who is also an actress, became a film director somewhat out of necessity because, as she says a little later in the story, she didn’t quit acting; she just stopped getting hired as an actress.

Allison is renting the house from an unmarried couple named Gabe (played by Christopher Abbott) and Blair (played by Sarah Gadon), who used to live in Brooklyn but the couple moved to upstate New York because they could no longer afford to live in Brooklyn. Gabe owns the house, which has been in his family for years. Blair is pregnant with her and Gabe’s first child together, and Blair is in her third trimester. There’s simmering tension between Blair and Gabe that eventually boils over to the surface.

Gabe is the one who greets Allison when she arrives at the house. It’s their first time meeting each other. And from the get-go, it’s obvious that Gabe and Allison are attracted to each other. Allison and Gabe have a mutual friend named Mike (who is not seen in the movie), who has told Gabe that Allison is married. When Gabe asks Allison why her husband isn’t with her, Allison tells Gabe that she doesn’t have a husband.

Blair notices the way that Gabe has been looking at Allison. And so, when Gabe introduces Allison to Blair, one of the first things that Allison says to Blair is that Blair is pretty, while Blair returns the compliment. Astute viewers will notice that this is Allison’s way of trying to dispel any insecurities that Blair might be feeling about Allison being an attractive stranger who has caught Gabe’s attention. Ironically, Allison later tells Gabe that she doesn’t like getting compliments about herself.

Gabe, Blair and Allison have dinner together during Allison’s first night at the house. What starts out as a polite “let’s get to know each other” gathering turns into a highly emotional standoff with Gabe and Blair arguing and Allison being somewhat caught in the middle. During this tension-filled situation, viewers find out that Blair has issues with Gabe’s chosen profession as a musician. Because he makes very little money as a musician, Blair doesn’t think Gabe should call himself a “professional” musician. He’s very defensive about it in a way that he thinks any criticism that Blair makes about his career is a direct attack on his masculinity.

Blair also announces to Allison that Gabe believes in traditional gender roles, which Gabe denies. Blair frequently accuses Gabe of being sexist, which he also denies. However, Gabe admits that he has this belief: “The erosion of traditional communities is part of why things are so chaotic right now. I’m not saying feminism is bad.”

During this escalating agitation between Gabe and Blair, there are hints that Allison wants to take Gabe’s side. When Blair berates Gabe for supposedly being against feminism, Allison chimes in by saying that feminism is “fucked up.” Allison and Gabe also seem to have the same sense of humor, because she laughs at Gabe’s jokes that Blair thinks are silly.

While Gabe and Blair are working out their relationship issues in this very hostile way, they also try to get a read on Allison, who comes across as someone who is mysterious and might not always be telling the truth about herself. At one point in the conversation, when Allison mentions that she never learned how to cook, Blair asks her in a surprised tone of voice why Allison’s mother never taught her how to cook. This is the same Blair who insults Dave for believing in traditional gender roles, even though Blair obviously assumes all women should know how to cook. Can you say “hypocrisy”?

Allison’s reply is to tell Blair that Allison’s mother died when she was a child. Instead of expressing remorse at her thoughtless comment, Blair continues to pick apart Gabe and then turns some of her vitriol on Allison too. When Allison says that she doesn’t think about her films after she makes them, Blair accuses Allison of being “selfish.” When Gabe accuses Blair of not letting him have his own thoughts, Blair responds by saying: “It’s not that I can’t stand that you have thoughts about the world. It’s that I can’t stand the thoughts about the world that you have.”

Meanwhile, Gabe chastises Blair for drinking wine during the dinner. He believes that Blair shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol during her pregnancy, while Blair thinks he’s being unreasonable and that a little wine won’t hurt the baby. Of course, their arguing isn’t really about the wine but about their conflicting outlooks on life. And their impending parenthood has forced Blair and Gabe to think about how they are going to raise their child when they can’t even agree on how they should live as a couple.

It’s later revealed that Blair is probably feeling very insecure because the pregnancy was unplanned and she might be thinking that Gabe is only staying in the relationship because of the child. And now, Allison has come into the picture, and a very pregnant Blair can’t help but notice that there’s a mutual spark between Gabe and Allison. It comes as no surprise that Blair begins to have doubts over whether or not Gabe still loves her. Before this story is over, some secrets are revealed, and there’s some more messy drama that leads to a big confrontation.

“The Bear by the Boat House” story has more characters but it’s not as interesting as “The Bear in the Road” story. In “The Bear by the Boat House,” Allison is now a character who is an actress who’s been married for six years to a director named Gabe. The story takes place on the last day of a film shoot of a movie that they are doing together. The name of the movie is “Black Bear.” It’s being filmed at the same pier and house that were in “The Bear in the Road” story.

In “The Bear by the Boat House” story, Allison (not Blair) is the character who is very emotionally fragile with jealousy tendencies, while Blair is a self-assured co-star in the film who might or might not be the third person in a love triangle. There’s sexual tension between Gabe and Blair. Gabe wants Allison to think that he’s having an affair with Blair so that he can get the necessary emotions out of Allison in their last day of making the movie.

Blair is in cahoots with Gabe over this emotional manipulation. There are scenes of Gabe and Blair having secret meet-ups in hushed voices to plot how they can trick Allison and possibly other people on the film set into thinking that Gabe might be cheating on Allison with Blair. Gabe and Blair plan it in such detail that they decide in advance how to look at each other and when to exit and leave the room, to make it look like they’re trying to cover up an affair.

Blair seems to feel a little bit guilty over these mind games, but in the end, she gleefully goes along with this scheme because she wants Gabe’s approval. Gabe has already been showing obvious favoritism to Blair on the film set, in order to plant the seeds of jealousy in Allison’s mind. Gabe also belittles Allison on the film set, in order to make her feel even more insecure.

The emotional distress is too much for Allison, and it leads to a long, drawn-out sequence where she gets stoned on an unnamed drug and has a hard time completing the last scene that they have to film. Gabe didn’t expect this damper on his carefully laid plan. Viewers will then have to wonder if Allison can finish the movie in the way Gabe wanted and if Gabe will tell Allison the truth about how he manipulated her.

Some of the members of the film crew who are caught up in this drama include a script supervisor named Nora (played by Jennifer Kim), a production assistant named Cahya (played by Paola Lázaro) and a cinematographer named Baako (played by Grantham Coleman). Plaza has some over-the-top melodramatics in this story, but she handles it with a certain authenticity so that it doesn’t go off the rails into becoming a campy performance. There are indications that the Allison character in this story has some underlying issues with mental health that can’t be blamed on Allison’s drug use.

“Black Bear” the movie (not the movie within the movie) is essentially a showcase for Plaza’s dramatic range as an actress. Plaza, who is one of the producers of “Black Bear,” is mostly known for her roles in comedies, but she is a clear standout in expressing the wide gamut of emotions that she does in “Black Bear.” Each “Allison” is at the center of the chaos in each story, but these two Allison characters are very different from each other. The Allison in the first story is a manipulator who likes to be in control, while the Allison in the second story is the one who’s being manipulated and is out of control.

Gadon also gives an impressive performance in her role as the shrewish Blair in “The Bear in the Road” story, but the Blair character in “The Bear by the Boat House” is unfortunately quite bland. Abbott’s Gabe character is also more nuanced and more interesting in “The Bear in the Road” story, whereas the Gabe character in “The Bear by the Boat House” doesn’t have much character development beyond being a conniving and selfish person.

“Black Bear” should be given a lot of credit for attempting not to be a typical “mumblecore” independent film, which is what it first appears to be if people judged the movie by its trailer. “The Bear in the Road” story crackles with energy because the characters and dialogue are written so well. However, “Black Bear” falls a little flat in the second half in “The Bear by the Boat House” story, because Allison’s meltdown becomes a little too repetitive and predictable.

Plaza’s acting talent shines throughout the movie, but the way that “The Bear by the Boat House” is written could have been improved by giving more depth to the characters of Gabe and Blair, who come across as very shallow in that story. People who have the patience to sit through this movie to find out what it all means will at least get answers to some questions in the last five minutes of the film. However, “Black Bear” still has enough “fill in the blank” moments that give viewers the freedom to interpret the movie in a variety of ways.

Momentum Pictures released “Black Bear” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 4, 2020.

Review: ‘Possessor Uncut,’ starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton and Rossif Sutherland

October 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Andrea Riseborough in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Possessor Uncut”

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut” features a predominantly white cast (with some black, Asian and Latino people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An elite assassin, who carries out murders by having her mind possess the bodies of other people, finds herself trapped in the body of someone who could threaten to destroy her. 

Culture Audience: “Possessor Uncut” will appeal primarily to people who like sci-fi horror with a lot of disturbing visuals and concepts.

Christopher Abbott in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

What happens when an assassin’s target turns on the assassin? It’s a concept that writer/director Brandon Cronenberg depicts in the harrowing sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut,” but there’s a twist: The assassin’s mind is trapped in a man’s body that she has possessed to carry out her assigned murder spree. When she tries to get her mind back into her real body, the man she has possessed won’t let her go.

“Possessor Uncut” doesn’t get to this crucial part of the story until the last third of the film. Before then, the movie spends a lot of time showing the audience the personal backgrounds and circumstances that lead to this assassination assignment that goes horribly wrong for the assassin. Tasya Vos (played by Andrea Riseborough) is an elite assassin who works for a mysterious Canadian company that’s in the business of murdering powerful people.

The company’s name and city are not mentioned in the movie, but the company’s wealthy clients are enemies of the murder victims. In the movie’s opening scene, a lounge hostess named Holly Bergman (played Gabrielle Graham), who works at an upscale place called the Blue Light Sky Lounge, has viciously stabbed to a death a rich and powerful man named Elio Mazza (played by Matthew Garlick), in full view of several people who are in the crowded lounge.

After she commits the murder, Holly utters, “Pull me out.” She then takes a gun and appears to get ready to place it in her mouth to commit suicide. But for whatever reason, she can’t do it. The police arrive, she shoots the gun at them, and the police fire their guns at Holly and kill her. Instead of shooting herself,  Holly has decided to commit “suicide by cop.”

It turns out that Holly’s mind had been “possessed” by the mind of Tasya, whose real body is lying in what looks like a compression chamber. When Holly said, “Pull me out,” it was Tasya telling the company’s employees overseeing her mind transference to pull her mind out of Holly’s body and back into Tasya’s real body. It’s a routine that Tasya has been trained to take every time her mind possesses the body of someone who commits the assassination that Tasya has been assigned to complete.

The company that Tasya works for has a certain procedure that Tasya is supposed to follow: After the murder or murders for the assignment have occurred, the person whose body Tasya has inhabited is supposed to commit suicide. Right before that suicide happens, Tasya has to request to “pull me out,” so the company can pull Tasya’s mind back into her real body.

After the assassination, the next step is that Tasya has to undergo an evaluation by a supervisor named Girder (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s usually in the room when Tasya’s mind is transported back to her real body. The evaluation includes a test of Tasya’s memories, to see if her own personal memories are intact and not mixed up and with or “charred by” the mind she previously inhabited. Tasya is shown a series of objects from her childhood (such as her father’s pipe and a framed butterfly) and asked to identify them and describe her memories of them.

The assassination of Elio Mazza was completed, and Tasya’s post-assassination evaluation yielded “normal results.” Girder is pleased that Tasya’s evaluation showed no problems. Girder comments, “Our next assignment is almost finalized. I can’t have our star performer falling apart on me.”

But the murder of Elio Mazza didn’t go exactly according to the company’s plan. The murder was supposed to be committed by shooting, but the murder was instead committed by stabbing. And after the murder, Holly did not immediately shoot herself but instead waited to be shot by police. Girder asks Tasya, “Why stab Elio Mazza? We provided you with a pistol.” Tasya can’t really answer the question.

Despite these discrepancies in Tasya not following these instructions, Girder wants to go ahead and give Tasya a very lucrative assignment. One of Girder’s colleagues expresses concern to Girder that Tasya didn’t follow the suicide instructions according to plan, and he wonders if Tasya will also not follow the instructions during the next assignment. However, Girder dismisses her colleague’s concerns and tells Tasya about her next assignment.

The company wants Tasya’s mind to inhabit the body of Colin Tate (played by Christopher Abbott), who started out as the cocaine dealer for a spoiled heiress named Ava Parse (played by Tuppence Middleton) and ended up becoming her lover and is now engaged to be married to her. Colin and Ava are both in their 30s. Ava’s rich and powerful father is John Parse (played by Sean Bean), a tech mogul who owns a company that makes devices similar to Apple Inc.’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Tasya is supposed to possess the body of Colin for three days.

The company has decided that Ava’s fiancé Colin is the best person to commit the murder, since he has a sketchy background as a drug dealer and it will be framed to look like he had insecurity issues over his life being controlled by a wealthy family. Colin works for John’s company, but Colin is in a low-level position that is probably emasculating for Colin.

Girder explains to Tasya that John’s stepson Reid Parse (played by Christopher Jacot) wants an assassin to murder John and Ava, so that Reid can inherit the family fortune. John is divorced from Ava’s mother and Reid’s mother, so these two women presumably aren’t in John’s will. (Neither woman is seen in the movie, although later in the story, John makes a bitter comment to Ava about Ava’s mother leaving him years ago.) Because Reid has John’s last name, it’s inferred that John adopted Reid when John was married to Reid’s mother.

As is the company’s usual procedure, the plan is for Colin (the possessed assassin) to commit suicide immediately after the murders of John and Ava. Rather than have the police look for a stranger assassin, the case will be closed because investigators will conclude that it was a murder-suicide committed by Colin. A sizeable chunk of the fortune that Reid wants to inherit will go to the company that employs Tasya and Girder. Girder also mentions to Tasya that the assassin company will essentially “control” Reid, because it’s implied that the assassin company has so much dirt on Reid (including his murder-for-hire scheme) that the company could easily get more money out of him by blackmailing him.

As a star employee of this assassin company, Tasya’s work life might be going well, but her home life is not going well at all. She’s separated from her husband Michael Vos (played by Rossif Sutherland), who is living with their son Ira (played by Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Michael and Ira don’t know what Tasya does for a living. Throughout the story, it’s implied that because Tasya has such a secretive job that requires her to spend long periods of time away from home, it’s taken a toll on her marriage to Michael.

Although Tasya is officially separated from Michael, she still goes back and forth between her home (where she lives by herself) and the home where Michael and Ira live. It seems that Tasya can’t quite make up her mind if she wants to get back together with Michael or go through with a divorce. During one of those times that she’s back with Michael and sleeping with him, she has nightmares about the stabbing of Elio Mazza. 

The marketing materials of “Possessor Uncut” prominently feature star Riseborough as the main character, but she is really only in half of this movie. Abbott gets a lot of screen time as Colin, and he could easily be considered a co-lead actor for this film. In the movie, Tasya is seen spying on Colin and Ava in their home by telescope (apparently Tasya has rented a place near the home), so that she can study Colin’s speech patterns, mannerisms and home routines. It’s her preparation before Tasya’s mind will inhabit Colin’s body.

One of the plot holes in “Possessor” is that it never fully explains how the person who’s supposed to be possessed gets into a situation where the mind transfer can be completed without their full knowledge. There’s some vague imagery of the mind transfer happening to Colin while he’s asleep. Tasya has to be hooked up to machine for the mind transfer, but the body she possesses apparently doesn’t have to be hooked up to a machine when the mind transfer happens. This is a science-fiction film, so viewers will just have to go with this murky explanation for how the mind transfer happens.

As part of her training, Tasya has been warned that although her mind can possess someone else’s body, the original mind of that person can still exist in the body. The trick is for Tasya’s mind to dominate the other person’s mind and then leave no trace of her mind when she leaves the person’s body. The danger comes when the other mind is conscious of being possessed by Tasya and attempts to take back control.

This twisty concept of “Possessor Uncut” might be too confusing to some viewers, because it’s all explained in bits and pieces and not in a completely straightforward manner. This is a movie that can be fully appreciated if it’s watched without other distractions going on. There are many details that need to be paid attention to when watching this movie, in order to get the full picture of what’s happening and the subtle indications of what’s going to happen.

About halfway through the movie, when Andrea’s mind possesses Colin’s body, the movie pivots to showing Colin’s life. At John’s company, Colin works at a job that barely pays minimum wage. He works as some kind of surveillance monitor (he wears virtual-reality goggles as part of his job), for the Siri/Alexa-type devices that are in people’s homes, to make sure that the devices are working properly.

It’s really just a legal way to spy on people in their homes, since people who buy these devices have waived certain rights to privacy as part of the user agreement. Therefore, a lot of this company’s employees can watch many intimate things that go on in people’s homes, including people having sex. It’s what Colin does in one of the movie’s scenes. And it’s writer/director Cronenberg’s way of showing viewers that this part of the movie isn’t really science fiction, because devices like Siri and Alexa have embedded audio and video components that can be monitored by employees of the companies that make these devices.

Colin has a smarmy co-worker named Eddie (played by Raoul Bhaneja), who gets off on watching people have sex without them knowing it. Eddie considers the sexual voyeurism one of the perks of the job, because it happens so often, and he tries to compare “spying” stories with Colin. Colin doesn’t really engage in these conversations because he just sees this spying activity as part of a job, not as a way to feel power over people. However, Colin is curious enough to keep watching when he does see people having sex.

Colin’s relationship with Ava is still fueled by cocaine, which he supplies for them since he has the connections. However, now that he is engaged to Ava and can live off her money, it’s implied that he just buys cocaine and has stopped selling it. Ava seems to be in love with him but it’s not clear how Colin really feels about her because the movie mainly shows Colin when he’s possessed by Tasya’s mind.

During a scene in Ava and Colin’s home where they’re having a small party with their friends, one of the friends named Reeta (played by Kaniehtiio “Tiio” Horn), who works at John’s company, hints that Ava has some “daddy issues.” Ava has a history of dating men who don’t get the approval of Ava’s father John, who then finds ways to humiliate these boyfriends. In Colin’s case, John’s way of humiliating Colin is to give him a very low-paying job at the company. It’s never fully explained why Colin doesn’t just work somewhere else, but it’s implied that Colin wants to do whatever it takes to get in this rich family’s good graces.

Under the orders of Girder, Tasya is told that while Tasya’s mind is in possession of Colin’s body, Colin is supposed to stage a big public fight with John, to give investigators a motive for the murders. The opportunity comes at a lavish party that John has, where many of his business colleagues are in attendance. But all does not go according to plan.

And there were signs that things would go wrong, because Tasya’s memories and thoughts were being in “invaded” by Colin’s memories and thoughts. The movie has some very striking and sometimes unsettling visuals depicting this messy melding and the eventual mind battle that takes place in Colin’s body. All of these visual effects have a very “scary psychedelic trip” look to them that will definitely make people remember this movie.

Riseborough is the top-billed star of “Possessor Uncut,” and she does a good job in her role, but the Tasya character remains a mystery throughout the entire film. The movie shows more of Colin’s personal life than it shows of Tasya’s personal life. Perhaps writer/director Cronenberg wanted to keep Tasya an enigma, so that it would be easier for viewers to see her as a chameleon who could inhabit other people’s bodies.

Abbott has the more difficult performance in conveying a person whose body is being possessed and fought over by two different people. It’s a very convincing performance that takes “Possessor Uncut” to a higher-quality level than the average “body possession” horror movie. The movie’s storyline is sometimes a bit choppy, but if people can handle the film’s dark themes and uniquely horrifying imagery, then “Possessor Uncut” is worth watching for some unnerving depictions of mind power and control.

Neon and Well Go USA released “Possessor Uncut” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020.