Brandon Cronenberg is the director of Antiviral and POSSESSOR is his newest film that just had its World Premiere at Sundance in January. I was privileged to interview Cronenberg at the festival and found him to be an extremely dedicated, funny and intelligent person who cares very much about his work as a director, writer, and creator.
POSSESSOR is an incredible film by a brilliant mind that is filled with thoughtful and carefully built worlds that do not yet exist but are grounded fully in the minds and souls of humanity. You don’t want to miss POSSESSOR or Antiviral, Cronenberg is a filmmaker to be reckoned with on the basis of those two films alone. It’s about the work and creation for him, so he’s working at a level of excellence that is governed by his own standards and with artistic integrity.
How did the idea of the film come about?
Brandon Cronenberg: I think this is probably a trivial personal detail, but after Antiviral, I was in a bit of a strange headspace. I was doing promotion for that film which is very surreal the first time you do it because you’re in a sense constructing this weird public persona that you have only partial control over when you haven’t done that before. It’s extremely weird and there were also other things in my life at the time that were in flux. I was really having this experience of feeling that I was living in someone else’s life and that probably motivated, in some degree, my interest in the ways that we construct and maintain identities and the ways that we can feel like we essentially need to assemble characters in our own lives and the simple narratives in order to function. So it started with that really, it started with an idea to make a film about someone who may or may not be an imposter in their own life and it kind of grew out of there. But really, the domestic scenes in the film were the core, and the sort of thriller structure came afterwards.
The idea of someone essentially possessing people has always been a scary concept and a part of the horror genre. Do you consider this film to be horror?
Brandon Cronenberg: I would say that it’s horror because this viscerally and graphically falls into a kind of horror space, but also the tone of it as well as its sense of anxiety and dread.
The film has a lot of different levels that it’s functioning on. The idea of possession and that people feel like “am I really here?” What’s reality and that type of thing, it’s really very complex. What were you trying to say about it?
Brandon Cronenberg: The film was intended to leave some space open for interpretation and exploration by the audience. I really didn’t want to spoon-feed everything to people, but I also just would love nothing more than for people to disagree about elements of what happened in the film and have their own interpretations.
It seemed to me like there was a lot of space to allow for it to be open-ended and for people to have their own interpretations.
Brandon Cronenberg: What I would I say is – in all things with the film I had a very specific structure in mind both symbolically and narratively. I know what I intended but through shooting and then through editing there was a bit of a balancing act because I didn’t want to spell it out too much and therefore it would kill any possibility of the audience disagreeing. I wanted to leave space for interpretation, but at the same time, there’s a danger in going too far and not having people engage. So that was a balancing act throughout shooting it and writing it and post, but I really ultimately like films where they leave it to the audience to at least some degree to explore the themes and the narrative on their own.
What I got out of it was based on my own personal experience which is why it’s so great to leave it open-ended so that people have that experience.
Brandon Cronenberg: Exactly. I think it’s denying the possibility of a discussion that I think is really healthy if you step in as the artist and say this is what you’re meant to feel right from the start. Maybe down the road that’ll change once there’s been room for that discussion. I might be more open about the specifics.
What was the hardest thing about this for you? In making the film?
Brandon Cronenberg: Honestly, the hardest part was just getting to the point where we could shoot. With a lot of indie films, it can take a while to get the right people on board, the right financing and cast together. So our development period was quite long. I was working on it for eight years from the time that I finished Antiviral. Some of that was, of course, writing. I had too many ideas after Antiviral and I wrote this incredibly bloated script and then I had to split it into two scripts and one of those became POSSESSOR. There was also a very difficult period just getting, I think, the right people on board so that we could finance the film. Once we got to shooting it, it was surprisingly easy because we had a very good team. There was a wonderful mood on set and we’re all kind of friends and close collaborators and the people we didn’t know like Chris [Abbott] and Andrea [Riseborough] were so wonderful to work with. It was weirdly smooth once we hit a certain point in pre-production when we were going to definitely make the film, but leading up to that point was a bit of a long difficult road.
The film provoked a lot of thought in my head and what came to me is how we repress what we really want or what we really dislike in our lives because of societal pressures, pressures of relationships, etc. If we didn’t have those contracts would we really be doing all of the same things that we do? You know, like relationships and getting married and all that stuff.
Brandon Cronenberg: For sure and it was definitely one of my interests. The extreme disconnect between our essentially internal identities and external identities and how those things can be constructed and imposed on us.
I’ve noticed there’s kind of like a thread of humor that goes through your films.
Brandon Cronenberg: I love humor in film, but I think my films are funny, not everybody agrees with me. You know what’s interesting is that I think there’s a divide between people who are genre fans that really understand that space and people who aren’t. A lot of genre fans find my films to be funny as intended. People outside the genre space are less likely to tap into that for whatever reason, maybe because those horror elements put them so on edge that they don’t feel that they can appreciate the humor to it. But personally, if I’m at a screening and people don’t laugh I think they’re gonna kill me at the end of it because my assumption is that there’s a thread of humor and if people aren’t getting that then something’s going horribly wrong.
When the violence happens in POSSESSOR it was shocking to me and I have a very high tolerance level. It seems like one of the hallmarks of this film is that symbiosis between the emotions and the violence or the emotions and the performance. Could you elaborate on that?
Brandon: Sure. So much of the way the violence in the film is depicted as rooted in character psychology. It’s all very narrative, it’s not just intended to provoke for the sake of provoking. For instance Voss’ complex relationship with violence and where the audience is situated in terms of a more or less subjective space, all affect how we see those scenes. And so, in a perfect world people would have that kind of visceral emotional response because of that, because it isn’t intended to just be violence for violence sake, it’s rooted. Not that violence for violence doesn’t have its place but it was very much a kind of controlled and curated violence within the film that was meant to relate to character psychology.
Is there anything, project wise, that you have coming up?
Brandon Cronenberg: I have two films actively in development right now. One of them is a science fiction space horror film called Dragon and the other one is a kind of tourism satire called Infinity Pool. My dream right now is to make them back to back so hopefully, they’ll have more news about them soon.
For more on POSSESSOR check out our review of the film here.