A Call to Spy

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory/IFC;
Drama;
Box Office $0.16 million;
$19.98 DVD, $22.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong violence, disturbing images, language, and smoking.
Stars Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte, Linus Roache, Rossif Sutherland, Samuel Roukin, Andrew Richardson, Laila Robins, Marc Rissmann.

Based on actual events, the compelling A Call to Spy tells the story of Britain’s efforts to recruit and train female spies to infiltrate Europe during World War II.

Sarah Megan Thomas, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Virginia Hall, an American recruited to set up a spy ring in France because her dreams of diplomatic service are dashed due to her having a wooden leg. Most of the film is told from her point of view and details her mission posing as a journalist in Nazi-occupied territories to build a resistance and funnel information back to her spymasters in London.

The initiative to create a corps of lady spies, which came at the behest of Winston Churchill, is overseen by Vera Atkins (Stana Katic), the overqualified secretary of spy chief Col. Buckmaster (Linus Roache). The real-life Atkins would serve as one of the inspirations for Miss Moneypenny in Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels.

Among her other recruits is Noor (Radhika Apte), a Muslim of Indian heritage who was the company’s best wireless operator, which earned her a ticket into the field before she had a firm grasp of the covert aspects of espionage.

In fact, one of the central themes of the film, and more fascinating aspects of it, is how much the British government stumbled around trying to figure out how to conduct clandestine missions and minimize risk to their agents. Numerous mentions are made to large numbers of spies being killed due to shoddy security and just plain laziness when it came to following protocol, not to mention some of the prim-and-proper spymasters simply not having the instincts for recognizing obvious traps.

A Call to Spy is not heavy on action or intrigue, but it is loaded with strong drama and a solid emotional foundation, ably anchored by Thomas, both in her performance and her pen.

The Blu-ray includes a three-and-a-half-minute behind-the-scenes featurette built around interviews with the cast and filmmakers.

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Possessor (Uncut)

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Well Go USA;
Thriller;
Box Office $0.75 million;
$29.98 Blu-ray, $34.98 UHD BD
Not rated.
Stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kaniehtiio, Horn, Raoul Bhaneja, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Gabrielle Graham.

Director Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary body horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, follows in his father’s footsteps with an absolute mind-trip of a sci-fi thriller.

The film deals with assassins who can take over the minds of others and use their bodies to commit the crimes for which they’ve been hired. The hosts are typically people associated with the victim, allowing them to get close enough for the hit while covering the tracks of those behind it. The hosts are then made to kill themselves so the possessors return to their own bodies.

However, those who possess the victims sometimes lose themselves in the alternate identity, requiring a strict regimen of psychological monitoring.

One such assassin is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), whose increasing emotional detachment leads her to struggle to remember how to be herself when with her husband and son, while her thoughts are dominated by violent imagery. Her boss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) would prefer she didn’t allow her personal attachments to interfere with her job.

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The film is presented in a sort of alternate 2008, where the only change from our world is the possession technology — a covert team subdues the intended victim and implants a device in their brains that allows the assassin to control their bodies remotely using a VR headset.

Vos’ latest mission is to take over the life of a man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot) in order to kill his girlfriend’s father (Sean Bean), a wealthy CEO. The attack is brutal — an ingenious use of makeup and puppet effects. However, Vos has trouble forcing Colin to kill himself, and as a result he begins to take back control of his body.

What follows is a visual whirlwind of filmed psychosis, as the struggle between Vos and Colin plays out both in his head through grotesque but memorable symbolic imagery, and in the real world as the company attempts to contain him while freeing her.

Loaded with violence and unerotic sex, Possessor is not for the faint of heart. The film has been marketed as “uncut” to indicate it’s the unrated version that ran at film festivals and is considered to be the definitive version by the filmmakers, distinguishing it from a slightly shorter ‘R’-rated version that played in some theaters and is available separately on Blu-ray.

The uncut Blu-ray is available on its own and as part of the 4K Ultra HD combo pack. The 4K disc includes just the unrated cut and no extras.

The Blu-ray includes three of the films’ trailers, plus three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run under 15 minutes each — one about the story, one about the psychological themes of the film, and one about the visual effects.

There are also three deleted scenes running a total of eight minutes that detail more about the possessor process and its psychological effects.