Brutal, bloody, and unapologetically merciless, Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is like a cinematic throat punch that I couldn’t help but admire just how audaciously unforgiving it is in its intentions. Blending body horror and sci-fi elements to create his provocative neo-futuristic thriller, Cronenberg demonstrates with Possessor that he might be a chip off the old block, but he’s also confidently blazing his own trail in Hollywood, crafting one of the most brazen films to come out of Sundance this year.
Without a doubt, I loved every single gory, vicious moment of Possessor and I think a lot of genre fans will, too.
The world of Possessor revolves around a secretive organization that employs contract killers to inhabit the subconscious of others in order to execute their targets. One of the best in the assassination game is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), whose methodical approach to her unconventional job has made her success unparalleled, which has caught the eye of her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Tasya’s demanding work comes at a hefty price for her personally, as her relationships with both her husband and son are distant at best, and we see Tasya struggle as she tries to function in her everyday real life, with the effects of her body-swapping endeavors taking their toll.
Her latest task involves Colin (Christopher Abbott), the low-achieving boyfriend to Ava (Tuppence Middleton), who's about to marry into her wealthy family. Ava’s father, John (Sean Bean), has made his millions in tech, with his latest company focusing on data mining, and it’s up to Tasya to take over Colin’s body so that he can kill John and Ava, changing the dynamic of the family fortune to the benefit of her employer’s client. Once Tasya inhabits Colin and settles into his life, her unassuming host begins to wrestle back his consciousness away from her, causing a devastating power struggle that will change both of their lives forever.
From the get-go, Cronenberg unleashes the cold, calculated, and cruel world of Possessor on viewers, and he never once lets up until the film’s very final moments, reveling in its unabashed ultraviolence in the most uncomfortable of ways. It’s not Cronenberg looking to shock audiences for the sake of shocking audiences, though, I just think that the violence we see in Possessor is reflective of the barbarous nature of human beings, and how we often struggle with such power that whether or not we want to admit it, it exists in every single one of us. And ultimately, it all comes down to choice, and Possessor shows us the detrimental nature when those choices go down a violent path.
As expected, Riseborough is astoundingly great as usual in Possessor, but it’s Abbott who steals the whole damn show in the latter half, as his character has to contend with the arrival of Tasya, and the way Abbott is able to embody a character within a character in a manner that feels wholly natural and unsettling at times is wondrous. Abbott’s been great before, but Possessor is truly a breakout moment for him and his career.
On a visual level, Possessor proves that Cronenberg has a masterful hand when it comes to depicting singular moments of cinematic brilliance, juxtaposing gorgeously unforgettable imagery against disturbing, jaw-dropping moments of horror, with his latest directorial effort establishing Brandon Cronenberg as one of the most exciting, raw filmmakers of his generation (here’s hoping we don’t have to wait seven years until we get his next feature).
Something else I wanted to mention here was the messaging of Possessor. I could easily see a lot of people trying to point fingers at Cronenberg’s narrative, as from a surface viewpoint, the story feels like an extremely harsh statement about how women are unable to juggle both their personal and professional lives successfully. And from a distance, I would say that you’d be right. But when you really begin to pull back the narrative layers in Possessor, it seems more like what Cronenberg is trying to do here is serve up a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too immersed in your work, all dressed up in a cyber-punk aesthetic, and I think that’s something that every single one of us can relate to on some level.
While I suspect that Possessor won’t end up being a film for everyone, I can say that it was without a doubt a film that was 100 percent right up my proverbial alley. Directed with razor-point precision and anchored by a pair of brilliant performances from two of the most compelling acting talents working today, Possessor is unflinchingly visceral filmmaking at its finest.
Movie Score: 5/5
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[Photo credit: Above photo courtesy of Karim Hussain via Sundance Institute.]