Cineray Contemplates Identity

Alright fiends, let’s get metaphysical! Today the double feature goes into the territory of Horror-Science Fiction. Usually, when this particular subgenre of Horror gets mentioned, aliens and/or the future are the central focus. Not with today’s film selections, though. These films’ primary focus is the concept of identity and how it is tied to our bodies. Today’s Cineray double features are Possessor, directed by Brandon Cronenberg and Come True, directed by Anthony Scott Burns. 

Possessor is a dark, sophisticated story of espionage, murder, and identity executed with the kind of horrifying flair that only a Cronenberg can bring to a film. Tesya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin for a secret government organization with a unique ability to execute her targets. Through a special implant added to her target’s brain, Tesya’s consciousness is transmitted via a machine her organization has created to implant her in subjects that can get close to targets. While inhabiting these unsuspecting ‘hosts’, Tesya executes her prey, then forces her host to commit suicide, simultaneously returning to her body. 

But there’s trouble. Lately, Tesya has been having difficulty maintaining her identity while inside her subjects. Because of this, she has to pretend to be her subjects so much that when she is herself, that identity has become something more akin to a part she plays. Especially around her family, from whom she is becoming increasingly estranged.  

When Tesya’s next job comes up, it involves executing the CEO of a multi-national corporation via his ne’redewell soon-to-be son-in-law. This job proves to be more difficult than any before it. For one thing, the subject’s consciousness is far stronger than the company’s research led them to believe, and this makes it hard for the machine that ‘streams’ Tesya’s personality to maintain its signal. For Tesya, this aberration causes pain not only to her psyche but also to her physical body. And Tate, the subject, will make it a lot harder for her to get the job done and get past this job without paying for using him. 

Brandon Cronenberg truly proves himself a talented filmmaker with Possessor. He offers all horror and intelligence his father brought to his films, but with his own unique style. A lesser filmmaker could have mishandled Possessor’s concept. However, Cronenberg tweaks the story, so its subject is pure psychological horror. Tesya, played excellently by Riseborough, is a character fractured by playing too many people. But it’s not just playing the roles that’s affecting her; it’s also the effect of being in other people’s bodies. The question arises of how much of what we know and understand of our conscious selves are tied to the bodies we inhabit. If we, for example, start to inhabit new bodies, would that consciousness change as our personalities change? Does it depend on the people we are around? Riseborough’s performance in particular, conveys the pain of being transmitted into her subjects, the pain and identity terror that becomes a new kind of horror – Mind Horror. Like Body Horror, this suggests there is a horror not yet delved into that will make us horrified of our minds and how they can be manipulated. 

Now take into consideration this: what if our own minds cause the manipulation? That is the theme of our second feature, Come True

Come True is a fresh and original horror movie that explores dreams, the shared subconscious, and who we are when we sleep, and how that shapes our identity in our waking hours. 

Sarah Dunne (Julia Sarah Stone) is a runaway who has nightmares that leave her waking hours exhausted. She dreams of traveling through eerie spaces filled with contorted bodies, ultimately arriving at a dark figure and waking just as it turns its face up to see her. Because of the dreams, Sarah has trouble staying awake at school and exists in a semi-fugue state. She joins a sleep study to see if they can help her and meets three young men in the test. The subjects are all put into special suits to sleep in while Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington) and his research assistants Jeremy and Anita monitor them. After a particularly bad nightmare, Sarah tries to leave, and Jeremy reveals the suits they wear to allow the researchers to see their dreams. When the team finds out they all have similar visions of dark figures with glowing eyes, Jeremy becomes terrified at what it could mean and what could happen to Sarah. 

Come True is a great indie horror film with an excellent sense of atmosphere and a production design that fits with the film’s story. From the start, the film is almost monochromatic in its look. Light is supplied mainly by fluorescents or LEDs, white and makes the characters appear pale. The sets are stark and nearly bare, which mirrors the look of the dreams Sarah is haunted by. As the film progresses, this all begins to make a lot more sense. There is not so much a monster, but a concept of a shared psychological fear of a dark shadow with glowing eyes is an interesting departure from typical horror. The fear of the unknown and uncertain is a strong concept shared by most people, and the terror of identity that seems to stalk you with an unknown purpose is terrifying. The acting talent by everyone is on par and sustains the film, which relies heavily on the strength of the actors to carry the film. The concept is an interesting one suggesting that her dreams do not only haunt Sarah but the possibility her dreams may indeed be shaping her sense of identity and that who she is in her dreams may be as important as who she is in waking hours. 

Finally, these films are both the kind of cinema you consider after the credits roll. After each film ends, you will need to think about moments you may have taken for granted or even overlooked. You will probably need a few viewings to truly establish what you have seen, I certainly feel like I need a few more. But I think that’s what makes for great cinema sometimes and I’m glad that horror can encompass the kind of films that make you think. Both are available for rental through all the popular streaming sites, and Possessor is on Hulu.