Culture Representation: Taking place in New York state, the dramatic film “Alice, Darling” features a predominantly white cast of people (with one black person and one Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A woman who’s in an emotionally abusive relationship with a boyfriend comes to terms with the relationship when she goes on a secretive getaway vacation with her two closest female friends.
Culture Audience: “Alice, Darling” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching psychological dramas about people in troubled relationships.
“Alice, Darling” is a mostly compelling and realistic portrayal of the dysfunction and denial of being trapped in an emotional abusive relationship. Viewers should not expect much of a plot to this drama, which mostly presents a well-acted psychological portrait of how emotional abuse affects not only the target of the abuse but also the people closed to the abused person. The movie also offers incisive observations about how people can struggle with handling abuse that is not physical or not illegal. “Alice, Darling” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Mary Nighy and written by Alanna Francis, “Alice, Darling” begins by showing protagonist Alice (played by Anna Kendrick) seeming to be in an ideal, loving relationship with her live-in boyfriend Simon (played by Charlie Carrick), who is a painter artist. Alice is in her early-to-mid-30s, while Simon is 37. They both live in New York City. (“Alice, Darling” was actually filmed in Canada.)
It’s never stated what Alice does for a living. The only detail given in the movie is that she works for a company where she sometimes has to travel for business meetings. At one point in the movie, Simon tells Alice that he thinks that her job is beneath her and that she could do better than the job she currently has. But is Simon being helpful or hurtful with this criticism? The cracks eventually begin to show in their relationship.
Early on in the movie, Alice is shown meeting up with her two closest friends at a wine bar. Sophie (played by Wunmi Mosaku) is outgoing and sassy. Tess (played by Kaniehtiio Horn) is emotionally guarded and somewhat brooding. During their get-together, Sophie and Tess mildly tease Alice about their waiter (played by Ethan Mitchell) showing signs of being openly attracted to Alice.
Simon has asked Alice to invite Sophie and Tess to the opening of his most recent gallery exhibition. Even though Tess and Sophie said that they would both attend, only Sophie shows up. Alice is very upset by Tess not being there, but Sophie (who works at an unnamed non-profit group) tries to smooth things over, by saying that Tess sometimes “gets in her own head when she’s working.” It’s later revealed that Tess is an artist too, but she’s doing her work for free because it’s all the work she can get at the moment.
It’s eventually revealed that Tess does not like Simon at all, while Sophie is cordial with Simon and is trying to keep an open mind about him. Simon doesn’t care for Tess and Sophie, and he frequently tells Alice that she should end her friendships with them. Tess’ 30th birthday is coming up, so Sophie suggests that she, Tess and Alice celebrate by spending time at a cottage in upstate New York owned by Sophie’s parents, who will be out of town for a vacation.
Alice accepts the invitation, but she lies to Simon by saying that she’s going on a business trip. On the road trip to the cottage, the three pals stop at a convenience store, where Alice sees a missing person flyer for a young woman named Andrea Evans. This missing person case will affect Alice in ways she that she doesn’t expect.
While at the cottage, Alice is anxious and emotionally on edge, as Simon constantly calls her to check up on her. It reaches a point where Tess and Sophie take Alice’s phone away from Alice, who becomes increasingly agitated and paranoid that Simon will think she’s a horrible person for lying about where she was going on this trip. The rest of “Alice, Darling” shows what happens when Alice (as well as Tess and Sophie) can no longer ignore the problems in Alice’s relationship with Simon.
Several quick flashbacks of memories reveal what type of toxic relationship that Simon and Alice have. Simon seems to be a perfect gentleman in public, but he’s also deeply insecure and verbally abuses Alice in private. All of the cast members give realistic performances, but Kendrick has the most complicated role, and she handles it with admirable skill. The movie somewhat falters with a climactic scene that looks too staged. However, if anyone wants a better understanding of what emotional abuse looks like when it’s hiding in plain sight, “Alice, Darling” has a meaningful portrayal.
Lionsgate released “Alice, Darling” in Los Angeles on December 30, 2022. The movie’s release expands to more U.S. cinemas, exclusively at AMC Theatres, on January 20, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Toronto, the dramatic film “Sugar Daddy” features a predominantly white cast (with some black people, Asians and one native Mohawk) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A 25-year-old woman who’s a struggling musician begins working as an escort to older wealthy men, and she gets more emotionally affected than she thought she would.
Culture Audience: “Sugar Daddy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing realistic and somewhat unconventional portrayals of people caught between desperation and integrity.
“Sugar Daddy” isn’t Hollywood’s “Pretty Woman” fantasy of escort work. If people want to take a realistic trip inside the world of an unusual Canadian woman who becomes an escort, then get ready for Kelly McCormack’s tour-de-force performance in “Sugar Daddy.” The movie doesn’t force the usual sleazy stereotypes on viewers, nor does it push the over-used “hooker with a heart of gold” narrative.
Instead, “Sugar Daddy” is a revealing portrait of a 25-year-old aspiring music artist in Toronto who’s struggling not only with her finances but also with maintaining her dignity when the people around her frequently want to take her dignity away from her. The only thing about “Sugar Daddy” that doesn’t ring true is the movie’s title, because this film isn’t really about the men who hire the female protagonist to be their trophy companion. The movie is really about her trying to figure out who she is and what she’s willing to put up with in her life to be comfortable with herself.
McCormack not only stars in this dramatic film but she also wrote the “Sugar Daddy” screenplay, performed several of the soundtrack’s songs, and is one of the producers of the movie. “Sugar Daddy” was artfully directed by Wendy Morgan and has an all-female team of producers. Coincidence or not, it might be why “Sugar Daddy” is so authentic with its female perspective.
There are conversations and scenarios in this film that seem lifted directly from real life. McCormack confirms it in the “Sugar Daddy” production notes, where she says the movie was based on many real-life experiences that she’s had as a struggling artist, except that McCormack says, “I’ve never been paid to go out on a date.” She also comments in the production notes: “Writing this film became an escape hatch and the only clear path I saw before me to transfer the paternal power I gave away to the maternal power I could keep for myself. The process involved a lot of personal heat. I’ve written from happier places, but this was not one of them—it was a flammable excavation.”
In “Sugar Daddy,” McCormack plays the character of Darren Kessler, who has been living in Toronto for about five or six years, after moving to the big city from an unnamed suburb. Like many aspiring artists who make this type of move, she has dreams of being successful and acclaimed for her art. These dreams aren’t necessarily to become rich and famous, although that’s a goal of many wannabe entertainers. Viewers will get the impression that Darren at least wants to become a respected professional who gets paid enough for her art to live comfortably.
However, one of Darren’s biggest creative problems is that she’s still struggling to find her sound and voice as an artist. This confusion of who she is as an artist is demonstrated many times in the movie when Darren has a hard time explaining what type of music she performs when people ask her about her music. It’s shown in the film that she experiments with different sounds.
She’s a talented singer/musician who can perform in various genres. In one scene, she sings opera. In another scene, she sings traditional folk music, a cappella. In another scene, she plays music that can best be described as “noise pop.” However, she’s never shown performing in front of a live audience. It’s implied that Darren doesn’t have the confidence yet to showcase her new music in a live setting in front of a crowd.
Throughout the course of the story, as Darren writes more original songs, she starts to lean more toward doing avant-garde electronica music. Because her music isn’t easily marketable, it’s harder for her to get the record deal that she wants. One of the most true-to-life aspects of “Sugar Daddy” is how up-and-coming female artists in the music business are expected to have some kind of youthful sex appeal to be marketed or to get the attention of producers and executives who can help get them a record deal. It’s a very different experience from male artists, who aren’t as likely to be subjected to the same “sex appeal” standards as female artists.
Darren is a multi-instrumentalist who can’t seem figure out what type of instrument she wants to buy when she can afford to buy it. When she goes into a music store, she tries out keyboards, guitars and drums—none of which she can afford at the time, because like a lot of struggling artists, Darren is financially broke. At one point in the movie, after she starts to make money as an escort, the first instrument she buys is one that the music store owner (played by Brendan Canning) says is is very hard to learn how to play: a pedal steel guitar. That’s an indication of Darren’s personality: If she’s given a challenge, she’s not afraid to take it on.
How did Darren end up as an escort? In the beginning of the movie, Darren is seen working as a food server for a catering company. When she shows up at work one evening for a small, upscale cocktail party, she’s barely gotten there on time and has forgotten to bring nice shoes that complement the geisha-like work dress that she has to wear as her uniform at the party. All she has to wear on her feet are some scruffy athletic shoes. Darren remarks to her friend/co-worker Jenny (played by Kaniehtiio Horn) that she hopes that the party attendees (who seem to be wealthy business people) won’t notice what type of shoes she’s wearing.
In the kitchen during the party, Darren is seeing eating some of the leftover food quickly when people aren’t looking. Later, she sees a party guest named Sarah (played by Michelle Morgan) who used to work for the same catering company. This guest, who is in her late 20s or early 30s, is the date of a man who appears to be in his 60s.
In a private conversation that Darren and Sarah have at the party, Darren asks Sarah if she’s still working in the catering business. Sarah says no and explains that she’s there on a date with the older man. “But we’re not together,” Sarah hastily comments on her relationship to the man. “It’s just for tonight”
Sarah further explains: “It’s like a paid dating thing for rich, older men. It’s still just a ‘stand there and look pretty’ job, but it pays better and it’s a lot less work [than being a food server]. Anyway, it’s putting me through grad school.” Darren is intrigued by what she hears but doesn’t seem too interested in becoming a paid escort. She’ll change her mind when she gets desperate for money.
Toward the end of the party, when Darren sees all the leftover food in the kitchen, she puts a lot of the food in the backpack that she has with her. But just at that moment, her boss Edward (played by Noam Jenkins) walks in and sees the stolen food in the backpack. Based on what the boss says to her, it’s apparently not the first time that Darren has been caught stealing food, so she gets fired.
Darren has a roommate named Peter (played by Ishan Davé), who’s a Ph.D. student in sustainable urban planning. He’s a sensitive intellectual who can sometimes be socially awkward. Soon after losing her job, Darren tells Peter that she got fired and that she won’t be able to pay $200 for the next rent that’s due. (The movie doesn’t detail how Darren and Peter met.)
Peter is understanding but a little frustrated. Based on his reaction, it’s not the first time Darren couldn’t come up with her share of the rent. He makes certain comments throughout the story that make it clear that Darren has a hard time keeping a regular job. Peter gives some words of encouragement and tells Darren that she’ll probably find another job soon.
But she doesn’t. Darren looks for another job, but nothing pans out. And then, as a last resort, she goes to a website called Daddy Date and signs up to be available for hire as an escort. The next thing you know, she’s in a boutique, trying on ball gowns for a man in his late 60s or early 70s named Jim (played by Nicholas Campbell), who wants to buy her some dresses for possible future dates he can have with her. It’s shown in the movie that Darren charges $300 for a typical date.
Jim asks Darren if she would like to go to the opera with him sometime, and she mumbles something about how it depends on how much she’ll get paid for it. Jim is Darren’s first “sugar daddy” client. And he’s not a Hollywood fantasy of being movie-star handsome like Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman.” Jim is overweight, he’s got the type of splotchy face that indicates he’s probably got alcohol/drug abuse issues, and he’s old enough to be Darren’s grandfather.
At first, Jim acts as if he’s just a lonely, harmless guy who wants to be in the company of a younger woman. And at first, Darren is in denial when she thinks that she doesn’t have to do anything sexual on these dates. But, as “Sugar Daddy” realistically shows, when most people who use escort services pay for dates and give their dates gifts, these customers eventually expect to get something sexual out of these dates.
Jim shows signs that he’s not just lonely. He’s also mentally ill. And it should come as no surprise that he tries to lure Darren into situations that make her uncomfortable and could lead to sexual assault. For example, Jim tells Darren that they’re going to the opera on one of their dates. But instead, he drives her to a remote area and tries to get her high on marijuana. What happens after that will determine if Darren will see Jim again or not.
Darren has a more meaningful and emotional connection to another client named Gordon Pierce, a wealthy businessman in his 60s. Her first date with Gordon is at an upscale restaurant. Unlike Jim, Gordon seems genuinely interested in Darren as a person. At first, Darren uses the alias Dee on her escort dates, but over time, she opens up to Gordon enough that she tells him her real name.
Gordon, who is a bachelor who lives alone, eventually tells Darren that he has a daughter who’s around the same age as Darren is. During the first date that Gordon has with Darren, she tells him that she’s a college dropout and an aspiring singer/songwriter/musician . And he gives her this piece of advice that will come back to haunt her: “It’s important to know your value when you’re selling an intangible commodity, but I’m sure you understand that as a starving artist.”
During this dinner conversation, Darren and Gordon find out that they both tend to put their work above any personal relationships. Gordon essentially admits that he’s a workaholic who loves doing business. Darren says that she sometimes becomes so consumed with making music that she often feels as if nothing else matters.
Darren also briefly mentions her relationship history, by telling Gordon that she had a boyfriend who moved to Toronto to be with her. But the relationship didn’t work out because she fell out of love with him. Instead of breaking up with him, Darren says that she decided to become so difficult that he had no choice but to break up with her. And when he left, she says she felt relieved, not sad.
These are examples of how Darren is flawed and messy but also very realistic. She doesn’t have her life figured out, she makes mistakes along the way, and she can be self-centered. It might not be a formulaic Hollywood narrative for an “ingenue,” but neither is real life. During Gordon and Darren’s second date, which takes place at an art gallery, Gordon introduces Darren to his music industry friend Nancy (played by Amanda Brugel), whose interactions with Darren demonstrate assumptions and stereotypes that can be made about people in positions of power.
“Sugar Daddy” doesn’t tell Darren’s story in a smooth, straightforward manner. There are parts of the movie that abruptly skip back and forth, and viewers will have to speculate what happened in the time gaps that aren’t shown on screen. Darren’s family background is explained in this manner, just like a puzzle with pieces that remain missing.
In the beginning of the movie, Darren is seen attending a funeral in her suburban hometown. It’s never explained who died, but it’s implied that it’s a family member because Darren’s younger sister Rae (played by Hilary McCormack) and their mother Kathy (played by Paula Boudreau) are at the funeral. Darren’s parents split up years ago (it’s never specified when), and the divorce is still a painful topic. Kathy and Darren have a prickly relationship with each other.
While at her childhood home, Darren goes into someone’s room and decides to take lot of the vinyl albums that were in the room. Later, it’s revealed that the vinyl albums belonged to her father, who is still alive but estranged from Darren, Rae and Kathy. It’s also revealed that her father left the family and never bothered to pick up the albums from the house.
After the funeral, when Darren is ready to go back to Toronto, Darren’s mother Kathy notices that Darren is taking several of the vinyl albums with her. Kathy isn’t pleased about it, but Darren abruptly cuts off her mother who seems to want to argue about it. Kathy then asks Darren if she needs money, and Darren (who’s broke but too proud to tell her mother) adamantly says no to the offer. And Darren makes an exasperated noise when her mother says, “You can always ask your father for money.”
There’s more tension in the conversation when Kathy tells Darren: “When your sister comes to visit you for reading week, don’t let her get too drunk partying. She still has to study.” Darren snaps at her mother: “Is that what you think I do all the time?” Her mother replies, “I have no idea what you do.”
Back in Toronto, Darren’s roommate Peter knows exactly what she does. And her escort work becomes a problem for him because he’s in love with Darren. Whenever he tries to express his feelings to her, she puts him in the “friend zone.” For example, when Peter tells her that her singing woke him up the night before, she makes an apology.
But then he says while looking at her with a lovesick gaze, “To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I heard you singing.” Darren seems to want to ignore Peter’s obvious infatuation, so instead, she quickly pats him on the head like he’s a dog and says, “Aw, you’re so sweet,” before she walks quickly into her room.
Eventually, Peter’s unrequited feelings for Darren come out in resentful ways. On Darren’s birthday, she celebrates with Peter and a small group of about six other friends who have gathered at Darren and Peter’s apartment for a casual party. But it quickly turns into an angry argument when Peter deliberately mentions that Darren has been making money as an escort.
Darren immediately gets defensive and tells everyone that she doesn’t have sex with the men she gets paid to date. But the opinions in the group vary on whether or not what she does is really just a form of prostitution. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie because it realistically shows how people can have different opinions on what “escorting” really means and how the escorts should be judged. Not surprisingly, the paying clients are usually judged less harshly than the escorts.
The acting and dialogue in this scene are riveting to watch, because there’s also the undercurrent of what started this argument. Peter knew that revealing this information would embarrass Darren, but he did it to hurt her because she doesn’t want a romantic relationship with him. It’s speaks to the power dynamics that often occur when there’s sexual tension between two people and one person feels rejected by the other.
Meanwhile, although Darren wanted to keep her escort work a secret from her friends, once it’s out in the open, she doesn’t shy away from talking about it. It’s easy to see her mindset because she thinks that if she denied that she’s an escort, it would be like admitting that she’s doing something shameful. On the other hand, during this heated debate, she goes out of her way to deny that sexual activity will eventually be part of the expected transaction in this type of work.
And there’s also discussion about “obligation sex” in dating, when someone has sex with a date out of obligation, because of what the other person paid for on the date. And what about someone who has a lover who willingly pays all their bills? Is that a form of prostitution? Some of the people in the group think it is, while others don’t.
“Sugar Daddy” also realistically portrays the blurred lines that can occur when people mix business with sexual pleasure. It’s what happens with Darren and a casual acquaintance of hers named Angus (played by Aaron Ashmore), who’s a music producer. Darren knows that Angus is attracted to her, so there’s that unspoken tightrope that she has to navigate of how she can get Angus to help her without him expecting anything sexual in return.
About a year before this story takes place, Darren had promised Angus that she would give him a demo of her music, but she never did. But now that Darren has been making enough money, she’s been making demos and some provocative music videos in her home studio, so she’s feeling more confident about showcasing herself to possibly get a record deal. But how far will she go to get a record deal?
In her everyday life, Darren prefers to wear casual, baggy clothes. But “Sugar Daddy” subtly shows that it isn’t until Darren displays some sex appeal in her music videos that she begins to get attention for herself as an artist. She wears some of the glamorous dresses that Jim bought for her, and a few times she goes topless. At least one of these videos goes viral. “Sugar Daddy” devotes considerable screen time to showing Darren filming her self-made videos, which are essentially a reflection of Darren’s inner feelings at the time she makes these videos. (“Sugar Daddy” is the feature-film directorial debut of Morgan, who has a background in directing music videos.)
One night, Darren sees Angus at a bar, and he introduces her to an A&R representative named Jeffrey (played by Andy McQueen), who works for a record company called Bristow Records. When Angus tells Andy that Darren is a singer, Jeffrey invites her to a recording studio session that he and Angus are doing with a famous rapper. There’s a possibility that Darren will be asked to do guest vocals on one of the rapper’s songs. Darren is elated and thinks this could be her big break.
What happens in that recording studio is also one of the best scenes in the movie. It shows how women are treated in an environment where misogyny is not only expected, it’s also encouraged. It shows how female artists have to often choose between their integrity or career advancement that might involve doing art that’s degrading to women. And it shows the assumptions that people frequently have about the roles of women and men in the music industry.
It would be a very cliché thing to do to portray Darren as an enlightened feminist who knows exactly who she is and can stand up to people who try to take advantage of her. But the reality is for Darren and a lot of people like her, she often doesn’t think she has the power to say no in a situation where someone tells her to do something that makes her uncomfortable. And what if that person making those demands can also help in her career?
Darren also gets a rude awakening when she finds out that she isn’t as knowledgeable about who the real decision makers are at Bristow Records and the music business in general. She internalizes and sometimes acts out a lot of sexist stereotypes that people might have about women in the entertainment industry. And she finds out the hard way that things don’t always work out the way she wants if she mixes business with sexual pleasure.
Kelly McCormack’s performance as Darren is sometimes raw and sometimes rude, but always realistic. It’s a performance that demonstrates her considerable talents as an actress and singer. There’s a scene where Darren and her sister Rae sing a song over the phone to their mother (it’s mentioned that the sisters used to perform together) that’s a true standout in the movie.
Some parts of the “Sugar Daddy” screenplay could have been less meandering, but whatever minor flaws there are in the screenplay are outshone by the movie’s overall tone and presentation. Some of the dialogue and scenarios sizzle with so much authenticity, it feels like a lot of it happened in real life, but only the names of the people have been changed. The direction is solid, and the other cast members turn in good performances, but this movie wouldn’t work without Kelly McCormack’s unique vision in telling this story.
“Sugar Daddy” is not a movie that’s supposed to make viewers feel good about people who are worshipped just for having money or power. Nor is it a movie that tries to make Darren look like a helpless victim. It’s a movie that takes a very clear-eyed view of what it means to make certain decisions and how those decisions could affect people’s lives.
In “Sugar Daddy,” there are three themes presented as chapters in the story: “Timid,” “Joyous” and “Atrocious.” (“Timid, Joyous, Atrocious” is also the name of one of the movie’s soundtrack songs.) Those three words could describe aspects of Darren’s personality, as well as the way that she tries to become a professional artist. And what “Sugar Daddy” presents so effectively is that as long as there are “haves” and “have nots” in society, people’s attitudes toward money, power and how we value ourselves can indeed be timid, joyous and atrocious.
Blue Fox Entertainment released “Sugar Daddy” on digital and VOD on April 6, 2021.
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.
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.