Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Gabrielle Graham, Matthew Garlick, and Tuppence Middleton.
An assassin who uses brain implant technology to get her personality inside the body of others finds her preference for being in a different body is beginning to take over her own existence.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and that is something that you are probably going to hear quite a lot about Brandon Cronenberg, whose second feature film Possessor finally arrives during the tail-end of a strange year whose harsh narrative could have been written by either of the filmmakers bearing that surname.
Cronenberg’s debut feature Antiviral was very much a continuation of the weird sci-fi body horror that his father David made his name with in the1970s and ‘80s but there was something missing. Whether it was a strong enough identity or voice of its own, or whether it was just a bit too odd that it couldn’t quite connect, Antiviral showed promise but didn’t quite have enough to it to make it stand out, other than relying on who its director was. Thankfully, Possessor makes huge leaps forward to make sure that it sticks with you a little more and that there is more about it to discuss other than who was behind the camera.
The story is suitably bizarre as we are introduced to Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough – Mandy), an assassin who is sent by her organisation to eliminate targets selected by high paying clients. However, Vos is no ordinary assassin as the methods used involves Vos’s consciousness being placed inside another person using cutting-edge brain implants, taking over the body and eventually killing the target and being brought back to her own body just before her host body kills itself; a sort-of body swapping assassination but the killer’s physical body never leaves the premises of the organisation.
Unfortunately for Vos she is becoming too absorbed in the non-physical world she inhabits and is a little disillusioned with the real world and her place within it, so much so that she has to rehearse how to greet her young son when she goes to visit him and her estranged husband. When her latest assignment puts her in the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott – It Comes at Night) she discovers that his will to stay in control of his body after the hit is done will lead to a conflict of personalities where nobody wins.
Not as cold or clinical as it would have been had Cronenberg Senior made it, Possessor clearly comes from the same gene pool that gave us Scanners, Dead Ringers and The Brood, such is the body and personality morphing ideas that Cronenberg and his crew have made flesh on the screen. It is also quite telling that David Cronenberg was once attached to direct Total Recall before it was given to Paul Verhoeven , and if you ever wondered what a dual-personality sci-fi with horror elements directed by Cronenberg would be like then Possessor is as close as you are likely to get as it also shares a bit of its DNA with that story, albeit being very tonally different.
Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott are the standouts here, the former continuing to impress with her intense screen presence, and Sean Bean also makes a memorable appearance, staying true to form and making the most of one of the films’ most brutal and unsettling scenes. In true Cronenberg style Possessor never gives you any clear answers for what is going on, demanding that you watch and all will be revealed by the end – which it is – but the journey getting there is a much more satisfying viewing experience than it was with Antiviral, with Brandon Cronenberg’s filmmaking voice a lot more confident as he mixes arthouse stylings with graphic violence in a much more accessible way than many recent movies that have tried to blend the two. Credit also to special effects wizard Dan Martin for his wonderfully explosive blood squibs that make the numerous shootings all the more nasty to watch.
In a year that has given us dozens of moody, slow-burning, character-driven pieces Possessor comes as something of a welcome relief, giving us a high concept story crafted into an engrossing and highly polished example of genre cinema that won’t appeal to everyone – i.e. mainstream audiences – but should gain enough of a following to get it mentioned in any ‘End of Year’ lists that matter. If nothing else, Possessor shows that although Brandon Cronenberg has clearly inherited a lot of his father’s talents, his own take on the style is beginning to shine through and makes whatever is coming next a very exciting prospect indeed if this movie is anything to go by.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★