27th Nov2020

‘Possessor’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Christopher Abbott, Andrea Riseborough, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh | Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg proves a proper chip off the old block with his second feature, Possessor, a brilliantly directed and startlingly original sci-fi horror that’s worthy of instant classic status. In fact, it’s fully deserving of a place alongside his father’s very best films, it’s that good.

Opening with an immediately unsettling stabbing sequence, the film centres on Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a seasoned assassin who’s able to “possess” unsuspecting strangers and use their bodies to commit murder-for-hire, thanks to brain-implant technology developed by her employers. However, repeated exposure to the procedure has taken a cumulative psychological toll on Vos and she’s beginning to have trouble separating her own psyche from that of her unsuspecting hosts after a job.

Despite the concerns of her supervisor, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a presumably deliberate nod to Cronenberg Sr.’s Existenz), Vos embarks on her latest assignment and possesses the body of tech drone Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), in order to kill his corporate billionaire boss -and prospective father-in-law- John Parse (Sean Bean). However, something goes wrong, leaving Vos effectively trapped in Tate’s body, with Tate’s own consciousness trying to regain control.

Cronenberg showed promise with his 2012 debut Antiviral, but nothing in that film can prepare you for his extraordinary work here. Accordingly, Possessor is packed with fascinating details, using its high-concept sci-fi premise to explore a number of provocative ideas, from corporate espionage to sexuality and gender fluidity to large-scale corruption and the abuse of technology, in addition to the surface concerns of identity and memory. Woven into that are several aspects familiar from Cronenberg Sr.’s films, such as body horror and an obsession with the permeability of flesh.

To that end, the violence in Possessor is stomach-churningly visceral, with Cronenberg serving up some of the most shocking horror imagery in recent memory. You think you’ve seen Sean Bean die a horrible death before? Well, just you wait. You can practically feel Cronenberg’s glee at the “Hold my beer” moment he pulls off here.

On a similar note, the effects work in Possessor is simply extraordinary, courtesy of British FX genius Dan Martin. There are visuals here – such as Riseborough seemingly melting into Abbott or Riseborough pulling at a mask of her own face – that will stay with you a long, long time.

The performances are equally stunning, particularly Riseborough and Abbott, both of whom convincingly inhabit each other’s headspace. The fact that the film also serves as a metaphor for the acting process, of “getting inside a character’s head” and taking on their attributes is just the icing on an already delicious cake. There’s strong support too, from Leigh, Bean (playing an utter bastard) and Tuppence Middleton as Tate’s oblivious fiancée.

What’s fascinating is the way Cronenberg essentially has you rooting for both characters, even though they are diametrically opposed to one another and locked in mortal combat. The concept also allows for inspired twists on standard thriller ideas, such as the fact that Vos unwittingly puts her estranged family’s life in danger when she visits them, because Tate’s consciousness has been awakened inside her and he’s “watching”.

Indeed, there’s so much going on in every scene, that the film is certain to prove more rewarding on multiple viewings. In short, this is not just one of the best horror films of the year, but one of the best films of the year, full stop. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another eight years to see what Cronenberg Jr. does next.

***** 5/5

Possessor is available to rent on Amazon Prime now.


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