Possessor is the second feature film from Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg, which he spent a meticulous seven years developing. In that time, he worked on his own catalogue of practical gore and physical effects in order to bring this project to life. Which he does in gleefully fleshy, visceral detail.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a highly-skilled assassin working for a shady private corporation, somewhere in an alternative but unspecified early 21st century. Using a terrifyingly futuristic apparatus, some form of brain implant technology, she transplants her consciousness into oblivious host bodies. Why? In order to use them to assassinate high profile contracted targets.
It’s clear she is regarded as one of the organizations elite agents. The film’s opening scene displays her brutal methodology in gruesome detail. This may be the work of Brandon, not his father David, but this truly is a classic Cronenberg body-horror freak out by definition. Cronenberg pulls no punches with the extremely graphic violence, and I mean EXTREMELY graphic. The gore of Possessor, featuring toe-curling practical effects, is not for the faint-hearted. They hark back to the body horror heyday of Scanners and The Fly, courtesy of his old man’s visceral early work.
Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) is Tasya’s latest target, an unstable cocaine dealer working at a data mining corporation. He’s dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of this sinister company’s CEO (a grizzly Sean Bean), who’s a despicable tycoon. Hired to take them both out, Tasya must learn every intricacy of Tate’s behaviour in order to convincingly infiltrate his mind and body. She has 48 hours to execute both marks and evacuate the host body successfully.
Tasya’s overseer Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is concerned that the lines are being dangerously blurred between personalities that Tasya is infiltrating, thus compromising the mission. The job is clearly straining her personal life too, with her estranged husband unaware of her day job. Equally, being away from her young son, she must even rehearse and relearn her own behaviours, as her identity becomes just another character to relearn. Underweight, pale, and ghostly, Risebrough has never been better.
At a vital point in the assignment, Voss begins to lose control and becomes trapped in the body. Tate’s consciousness resists and starts to fight back. A struggle for control of the mind and body ensues, a visually stunning grapple between intruder and host. This plays out on the ‘astral plane’.
All elements of this film have clearly been scrupulously composed and thought out, such as the score. Composed by Jim Williams (Raw, Sightseers), it’s fantastically claustrophobic and as brutally pounding as the visuals it engulfs. The cinematography from Karim Hussain is striking and crisp. The foreboding imagery, achieved using vintage lenses, really gets under the skin, no pun intended.
Possessor is a grown-up, impeccably acted, intelligent sci-fi film, not the kind dealing in aliens and spaceships. Cronenberg is clearly digging into surveillance culture, social paranoia, and estrangement as well as the concept of identity itself, so no messing around here folks. There is real intellectual weight behind the excruciating violence, this warped mind invasion thriller is shocking to its last few seconds as the action works up to its brutal finale.
Released on very few big screens in late November, Possessor somewhat slipped through the cracks. Like so many great releases, this was due to the constant closing and reopening of cinemas during this treacherous pandemic. Despite this, it’s strongly recommended for anyone with a strong stomach to indulge in this wonderfully demented nightmare.
Words by Ed Budds
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