Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Gabrielle Graham, Kaniehtiio Horn, and Sean Bean.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a special operative for a secret organisation who carry out assassinations for high-paying clients. The USP is that they use brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies in order to cover their tracks.
Ordinarily you’d think that a story focusing on an assassin who’s too long in the game. consumed by their work, with an identity diluted by the chameleonic roles they have had to inhabit in order to get close to their target, might seem a bit old hat. A bit seen-it-all-before. A bit blow the dust off a script found in an abandoned 90s production office. Then you’d watch Possessor. A gruey infusion of body-horror, paranoia, and near-future science-fiction, which puts a new twist on the familiar, along with a fresh coat of blood-red paint.
Using the same low-tech effects that his father employed throughout his career, but most comparatively those found in ’99s eXistenZ, Brandon Cronenberg is on apples-don’t-fall-far form in creating the world of Possessor. Everything feels minimalist and real. We’re already at a stage in our human evolution in which people are having chips planted in their head, so a procedure where the user simply jacks-in via the top of their skull feels like the sort of thing you’ll see happening in Starbucks in a couple of years. That’s not where the real horror is found in Possessor.
It’s how this tech is utilised and the affect it has which provide the real scares. Tasya is consumed by the roles she takes on, spending so much time in a world of artifice that when she emerges she has to practice what it’s like to interact with those closest to her. One of Riseborough’s stand-out moments, in a performance that relies so heavily on mood and silence, is a scene in which she rehearses lines of conversation before visiting her estranged husband and their child. The film’s themes of disconnect and technological dehumanisation would make it a fascinating double-bill with Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.
For those seeking the more superficial horror beats that Possessor‘s promotional material promises (ooooooh ‘Uncut’…..scary) , you needn’t worry, because the three acts are punctuated with bursts of gut-punch gore, which are effectively horrific, and only feel indulgent as the messy ending plays out. In fact, the rest of the film is a rather quiet, slow-burn experience, which intentionally makes the acts of violence that much more shocking.
It’s also quite a narrative surprise when the baton is passed to Christopher Abbott for the majority of Possessor. Andrea Riseborough, who is arguably one of the most fascinating screen presences working today, and has this unique ability to make you feel that there’s so much going on beneath the surface, which is imperative to this story, takes a back-seat once Tasya is implanted into her unsuspecting victim. As good as Abbott is, and his shark-eyed stillness just adds to the growing sense of unease created by Cronenberg, you do wish we got a little more time exploring Riseborough’s fractured psyche.
Circling the duality of Abbott and Riseborough are an impressive ensemble; Sean Bean is great, dialing up the smarm and arrogance to eleven, while Tuppence Middleton continues to impress in everything she does, here playing possibly the only sympathetic character in a roll-call of corrupt or morally ambiguous vessels, all of whom feel synthetic and cold, which is probably the point.
A biotech Bourne Identity, with smatterings of body-horror and familiar tech talking points, Possessor succeeds because it’s wearing Brandon Cronenberg’s skin over them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt