Synopsis – Possessor follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients.
My Take – Fans of 80s cinema would definitely be well versed with the film-making style of cult filmmaker David Cronenberg, who gained much notoriety for familiarizing much of the world with his squirm-inducing body-horror cinema.
With his films like Videodrome, The Dead Zone, Shivers and The Fly still remembered to this day for exploring visceral bodily transformation, infection, technology, and the intertwining of the psychological with the physical. Though I have never been a part of the audience that championed his style of film making, but I do understood the need to appreciate the kind of cinema he catered to – the low budget but well-crafted high concept thrillers that weren’t afraid to push limits.
While David Cronenberg shows no signs of returning to the director’s chair (with his last directorial being the 2014 satirical drama Maps to the Stars), his son, Brandon Cronenberg seems to have picked up the mantle. As evident from his sophomore effort, much like his father, Brandon too is interested in using provocative and eye-popping graphic violence and sexuality to a stomach-churning and disorienting effect.
Though the film rightfully delivers the gory goods, and is filled with some great performances and some nice visual choices, it is Brandon’s writing creativity and terrifying direction that turns this film into one of the biggest standouts of the year.
The story follows Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin who works for a corporation that uses new-age, brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies to kill. A complicated, clandestine operation that only the wealthy elite can afford as a discreet option. Though Tasya has been a veteran of the craft, due to the rapid continuance of her missions, she is now slowly beginning to have a breakdown.
The professional life she leads is incomprehensibly deranged, and the psychological toll moving from body to body, only exiting her victims by a self-inflicted bullet to the head, is abetting her mental decline. Elements of which she can feel due to her growing coldness towards her temporary separated husband, Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and young son, Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot).
However, she is determined to plow through as according to her superior, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), her next assignment is a big one. She has to take over the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a lowly employee, and kill his girlfriend, Ava (Tuppence Middleton), and her father, John Parse (Sean Bean), the CEO of the multinational corporation he works at, a company which this hidden corporation wants a hand in as it collects information on unsuspecting citizens by accessing the webcams on their computers. While the job seems pretty simple at first, unexpected complications begin to arise.
The film makes its point right from its opening scene which sees a violent stabbing in a hotel bar. Whereas most directors cut away from blade penetrating skin, director Brandon Cronenberg shows the murder in full, and doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details, setting a tone that assures that next 104 minutes is not going to be for everyone. Part art-house Avatar, part body-horror Inception, here, director Brandon Cronenberg mixes his influences from everywhere to comment on everything from online identities to weaponization of bodies, while making sure it soaks every argument in gristle and gruel.
But director Brandon Cronenberg less concerned with the world he has creates and never elaborates too much about it, instead he is more fascinated with what is going on within the minds of Tasya and Collin.
We’re give just enough context to know what is at stake in their lives. And just a peek at what the world they live in. It’s smart without drawing attention to itself. Collin’s job, where essentially spies on people through their web cameras to see what products they have purchased, also lends itself to a few moments of uncensored voyeurism. It’s a rough experience, but one that I found to be compelling.
It also looks fantastic, and an easy film to get lost in – with the main thread sometimes buried under all the slick visuals and existential angst. The film uses the violence it displays, with the detached precision of a medical video, to create the hefty toll Tasya’s work takes on her.
These assassinations are not simply quick cuts and flashy, and director Brandon Cronenberg lingers on the victims and the detritus of their attack. He also shows the transference process: the host-body gestating like a clever animation in a contemporary art exhibit. Skin-colored liquid bubbles to form the person Tasya is to imitate, to be. However, it is hard not to point out that the film suffers slightly from over-thinking things, as it comes up with big ideas but never makes much of a point with any of them.
On top of this, director Brandon Cronenberg deserves praise for recruiting some under-appreciated talent for his film. Andrea Risenborough brings a subtle complexity to the emotional distance and struggle of Tasya so much that even though what she’s doing is wrong, we can’t help but hurt for her in a sense. Even though Riseborough has a small amount of screen time she casts a large shadow over the entire film. Her haunted, hallowed out work in the moments we see her with her son and her ex-husband is quietly heartbreaking and uncomfortable. The moments are small but Riseborough has become an expert in this type of work, etching a character quickly.
Christopher Abbott also has his work cut out for him: playing a female assassin trapped in a male body. He captures that confusing friction, especially when feeling him/herself in the mirror. There’s also plenty of scene-stealing appearances from great character actors such as Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland and Tuppence Middleton. On the whole, ‘Possessor’ is a horrifying and bizarre masterpiece of style, tone, and visuals that deserves praise for its writing and direction.
Directed – Brandon Cronenberg
Rated – R
Run Time – 104 minutes