Brandon Cronenberg’s terrifying new film Possessor was inspired by his dislike of doing press. So, it was with some trepidation that NME logged on to Zoom for our interview with the Canadian filmmaker, son of horror icon David Cronenberg.
Inspired by the strange feeling Cronenberg had when promoting his first film – Antiviral in 2012 – Possessor is a reaction to the artificial set-up of promotional interviews. It’s also a bone-crunching sci-fi horror about Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin-for-hire who can infiltrate the minds of victims and commit violent crimes.
It’s near-impossible not to link the scary new movie to its director’s horror lineage, and the 40-year-old writer-director is more aware of this than anyone, though he doesn’t care to answer questions about his dad. Instead, he told us about forging his own path, and rejecting that familial legacy.
Has your relationship with fame changed since you made Antiviral?
“It hasn’t really. I think that it’s still something fairly strange and certainly very unnatural for me, but it’s something that I’m more used to I guess.”
How did Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott get involved with ‘Possessor’?
“Andrea came on because she’s friends with [Antiviral star] Caleb Landry Jones, which I didn’t realise before I met her. I was nervous going into our meeting, thinking that I was going to have to really convince her to do the film. It turned out that she’d seen Antiviral, and was interested in doing a film with me already. Christopher I knew because I’d watched James White, which is a fantastic film. There’s nothing lazy about either of these performers, they’re hitting all of the most interesting notes and I think they’re very brave for being so game for this kind of film.”
Vos was male in an early draft of the script. What made you update this for the final film?
“I defaulted to a male character because I was trying to talk about my own experiences in some way. Then I realised that I was boring myself. Also we’ve seen so many films where the father or husband is disconnected from domestic life because he’s so on the job, so it seemed more of a cliché. Contrasting gender felt much more interesting.”
You grew up on your dad’s film sets, did those experiences help shape your voice as a filmmaker?
“I never made a conscious decision to embrace horror specifically. It’s just where my instincts are right now. I’m making films that are honest and creative impulses. One of the things that I like about horror is that it explores parts of the spectrum of human emotion in a way that other genres don’t. That’s satisfying to me. I don’t want comfort food when I’m sitting down to watch a film. I want to be pushed into a different headspace. Filmmaking can drive us to see the world differently and to see ourselves differently. I want to come out of a film feeling like I’ve had some sort of transformative experience.”
Was there any research that helped to shape the script?
“Possessor was going to be less of a science fiction film initially, and then I started researching the neuroscience behind controlling the brain. There was a Spanish doctor who, in the 1950s and ’60s, was implanting animal brains into humans, and he could control a fairly alarming range of human functions, not just motor functions, but emotions. I became really interested in the science behind that and it crept into the script.”
There are some gruesome visual effects in the film, did you help to create them?
“It was a combination of specific ideas that I had and then riffing with my makeup designer. For instance there are these melting torsos that feature in some hallucination sequences in the film, and a scene where a character’s head is crushed that were fairly specific to the script. The fake heads that we used were spectacular.”
Does legacy concern you as a filmmaker?
“I’m definitely not interested in legacy. I think that’s a bad thing to focus on when you’re an artist, first of all because you can’t control it, and secondly, you can’t take it with you. I’m not interested in building monuments to myself. I’m making films because they give me a framework that I can operate in and a lens through which I can see the world and translate it for myself. If that leads to art that is meaningful to other people that’s also fantastic. But it’s also just something that helps me to function.”