Brandon Cronenberg — son of the legendary David Cronenberg — is a talented chip off the old block. Though Possessor is only his second feature, Cronenberg has created a complex and fascinating film that will dig its way into your brain and stay there, percolating, long after you’ve seen it. It’s cruel, clever, and compelling, and it’s possibly the best film of the year.
In Possessor, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough, Mandy) is the top agent at a shadowy organization that uses advanced medical technology to implant her consciousness into the body of a carefully selected host. She uses these unwilling actors to commit brutally violent assassinations at the direction of the company, pulling her out before the host is forced to self-terminate. It’s the perfect crime — all eyes are on the host, whose death effectively ties up any loose ends. But the more missions Vos embarks on — taking residence inside someone else, adopting their personality and mannerisms through meticulous observation — the more she loses herself. When Vos takes over the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, It Comes At Night), she finds herself losing control to his consciousness, embroiling them in a battle of wills that threatens to destroy them both.
Riseborough and Abbott are absolutely flawless. Vos is balancing her own confused identity with the weight of the murders she’s committed; she’s alienated from her family and any sense of normalcy, and her focus on her job becomes all-encompassing. Riseborough is phenomenal as Vos stoically struggles to connect. Though she doesn’t have as much screen time, her presence is carried throughout. You can feel her through each scene, hovering just in the back of your mind.
Abbott has both Tate and Vos behind the wheel, shifting through different mental states with razor-sharp precision. One “calibration” scene turns the literal emotional dial from one extreme to the next, and Abbott absolutely nails the transitions. He flexes his well-honed acting muscles, pulling pathos through the character’s complex confusion and torment. Possessor’s performances are often subdued (until they very much aren’t), but every motion — every micro-expression — is nuanced perfection.
Karim Hussain’s (Random Acts of Violence, We Are Still Here) cinematography is nothing short of brilliant, with a meticulous balance of lighting, color, camera movement and placement. He dials scenes down and blows them up in equal measure, pulling you through a moody ebb and flow. Possessor has a unique and distinct texture — you can feel this film.`
Every design element of Possessor works in well-planned harmony, offering strong support to the well-crafted story. Visual effects melt and bleed into the action. The overall effect is impressively cohesive. Cronenberg has crafted a brave new world with dystopian leanings and unexplored depth that goes beyond the events we see on screen.
Possessor is a rather heady film, dealing with themes of moral corruption, body dysmorphia, and surveillance capitalism with punches of abstract imagery and ruthless violence. And it is ruthless — shot in close-up, every seamless stabbing and brutal beating is inescapable. Not for the faint of heart, Possessor is heavy, bold, unflinching sci-fi horror at its best.
I would love to say more, but Possessor demands to be seen. If you’re a fan of his father’s work, rest assured that Cronenberg follows in his footsteps when it comes to body horror and misused technology. He travels down that familiar road, but the whole trip is dramatically different, and with a final destination unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Possessor is set for release on October 2, 2020. You can check out the trailer here.