27th November 2020 (UK)
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.
Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh
As prolific poet and wordsmith William Fredrick Durst once said: If you want something done right, you just gotta do it yourself.
Except, of course, if you want to commit murder. It’s better to have someone else take the fall. I assume. I have no experience of the matter, nor do I ever intend to. But for the sake of this review, let’s say you have someone in mind that you wish wasn’t around anymore. Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor takes place in a reality in which the dirty, deadly deed can be accomplished by ‘possessors’; contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into the body of another person in order to carry out an assassination.
Tasya Vos is one such agent. The best in the biz, actually. She’s performed a number of Takeovers (not the official title of the act, but who’s going to stop me?) but her latest assignment is the company’s biggest yet. She’s tasked with inhabiting the grey matter of one Colin Tate, the partner of Ava Parse. The target? Ava’s father, John (Sean Bean), who is head of a massive corporation. The contract, taken out by John’s stepson Reid in an elaborate attempt at a takeover, will prove to be the toughest yet for Tasya – in more ways than she could have ever possibly imagined.
You may have noticed that the word ‘Uncut’ is present on the poster. Usually a cheap marketing ploy to draw in those looking for something excessively bloody, but in reality ends up being extended scenes of droll dialogue which the director felt were necessary, it’s a tag which is certainly required here. Right out the gate, Possessor proves it’s taking no prisoners with a gory and unflinching scene setter.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Genre veterans will instantly recognise the director’s surname. And they’d be right to make the connection. Brandon is the son of body horror innovator David, whose boundary-pushing credits include 1986’s The Fly, 1983’s Videodrome, 1981’s Scanners, most known for its exploding head scene, an adaption of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone 1977’s Rabid and the totally bizarre Crash, in which an entire sub-culture are turned on by car wrecks and the resulting injuries. So it’s fair to say that Possessor, coming from the son of a man so warped in his ideas for entertainment, isn’t going to be for the faint of heart.
It’s a colossal relief then that with Possessor Brandon doesn’t simply imitate his father. There’s sickening imagery here, for sure, not just in its violence either. Possessor‘s flagrant exposing of full frontal genitalia (both male and female, flaccid and… not so much. For the men, obviously) is on display in amounts not often seen this side of a “Restricted Access – Click to Confirm your age” notice. But Brandon also gives fresh and relevant spins on similar themes that his dad was working with over 40 years ago; most prevalently, the dominance of technology and the immense invasion of privacy which comes along with it.
Andrea Riseborough is phenomenal as Tasya, a woman whose troublesome career is taking a monumental toll on her own psyche. Not the best thing to have happen when you must enter the consciousness of another. In this case, it’s Christopher Abbott’s Colin, who essentially pulls double duty playing both parts. He is magnificent as the exploited boyfriend of Ava, perfectly depicting the internal struggle of personalities. A huge special mention must go to the always excellent Sean Bean as Colin. While he may not be on screen for a substantial period, his truly unforgettable appearance leaves a mark in a variety of ways. There’s more screen royalty in the form of Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tasya’s boss, Girder. Cold-eyed and clinical, Jason Leigh’s Girder is a character to approach with apprehension, one whose motives should be continuously questioned.
Not unlike this review to save from spoilers, the world of Possessor is deliberately vague in its specifics. Scarily, there are a few parallels that can be drawn to reality, especially in relation to Colin’s menial (but extremely intrusive) job. It’s all alarmingly believable too, never stretching the limits of believability.
For me though, Possessor shines in its middle ground. That is, the place between Tasya and Colin. The interpretation of this space – and indeed the jump from one mind to another – is absolutely astounding. The transition is seamless and harks back to the practical effects of yesteryear without ever looking outdated. It’s unequivocally one of my favourite sequences of the year for its creative interpretation and is a huge factor in the film’s overall success. To illustrate the wrestling of control between the two, Cronenberg reimagines the demented boat ride from hell as seen in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, blitzing us with a frenzy of images and memories. It’s frenetic, disorienting and nauseating – so of course I loved every minute it.