Brandon Cronenberg’s newest film can most accurately described as a visual experience. There is a certain milieu in which Brandon’s work takes up residence – somewhere between malaise and dread – and in the case of Possessor, drenched in hues of red and blue.
The story follows an elite, corporate assassin, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) for two of her most recent attempts. The film starts with everything you will need to know on whether or not you will be able to sit through the rest of the film. We watch as a woman sticks a needle through the top of her head as a means of “calibration”, once that is finished, she walks up to a man at a party and slits his throat, followed then by jumping on top of him and stabbing him a few dozen times. It is primordial, gruesome, and very very bloody. This was an assassination, the company Tasya works for uses brain-implant technology that allows you to enter a person’s consciousness – possessing their body and using it to carry out their sinister plans.
When Tasya is tasked with killing the tech billionaire John Parse (Sean Bean), she possesses the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot) who is currently dating Parse’s daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton). The story is much more than killing and gore, beneath the blood-soaked surface there are such nuanced details about the human psyche and sense of identity that may be even more unnerving than the body trauma that is on display. Heightened by its aesthetics both visually and audibly. Director of Photography Karim Hussain, Brandon Cronenberg and Production Designer Rupert Lazarus have created an alternate reality that feels entirely plausible and absolutely stunning.
The relatively simple premise that Cronenberg uses as a launching pad to explore existentialism and take a stab at human consciousness. What happens when you invade another person’s mind? How much of you is present, how much of them are fighting back? When you spend your life inhabiting other people, assuming a different identity, and waking up next to their loved ones, how much of you is being stripped away? The things that make us human and ground us – family, love, individuality – when these things get pushed away, the only thing that is left is anger and a nihilistic view of the world.
Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbot are standouts. Riseborough is starting to make herself a staple in all things terrifying – with Mandy, The Grudge, and now Possessor I think it’s safe to assume that we have another reliable “scream queen” moving forward. Being able to convey deep emotions and still stay grounded when the blood hits the fan is challenging and Riseborough is terrific. Abbot is very complimentary to Riseborough’s character. While Tasya is a calculating and ruthless killer, Colin is more aimless is his ventures. Once possessed, there is a thoroughly captivating game of cat-and-mouse happening in Colin’s head and Abbot has a lot of emotions and a certain vulnerability to display, the internal fight for his identity is shown on his face and in his body language. The supporting cast of Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton, and Jennifer Jason Leigh also help elevate the material.
While this film will certainly not appeal to the wide masses, the individuals who do seek this one out will not be disappointed. Rife with head trauma – both mentally and physically – it stays true to Brandon Cronenberg’s sensibilities as a director and that Cronenberg DNA unquestionably shines through.
Officially retitled to “Possessor Uncut” although nothing has been cut from the original film, it is simply a title change albeit a bit confusing as to why.
Available in select theaters October 2nd and November 6th on VOD.
4 out of 5