Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Released: November 27th 2020 (UK)
In Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg’s stunningly perverse sophomore effort, the feeling of emotional and physical detachment takes the form of parasitic dystopian tech – an actual “harvester of souls”, if you will – used for the sole purpose of identity theft and its subsequent destruction. Here, the slogan “control and destroy” is shaped into something terrifyingly physical, while the fragility of human mind and body manifests itself as a hypnotic, brain-splattering journey into the depths of the human psyche – this is Cronenberg’s Possessor, a hyperviolent sci-fi thriller with a mind-altering edge.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a different kind of hitman: spending most days inside a different host body, her job is infiltrate and eliminate high-value targets. Of course, work like this doesn’t leave much time for personal life, and right after a successful run, Vos chooses to go back into the machine and control an ex-dealer Colin (Christopher Abbott), whose father-in-law John (Sean Bean) is the successful CEO of a massive data-mining company. This time, however, along with her mind Vos also transfers all the inherently human issues that make her question the very nature of her existence.
In the world where tech companies hold most of the power assets and dominate the stock market, it’s not too difficult to imagine the most dystopian outcome for the future. On that front, Possessor’s vision of it doesn’t feel too far off – assassins may use futuristic mind-transferring machinery and actually get inside someone’s brain, yet their values remain firmly rooted in capitalist beliefs, abusing human bodies for quick and easy profit. As expected, following Antiviral’s commentary on celebrity culture, Brandon Cronenberg’s sensibilities reach their full potential in his second feature, evolving into a surprisingly potent statement about fractured identity in the world where privacy is non-existent even in the bedroom.
Upon greeting the audience with an appropriately vicious opening, the film briskly transitions into an existential state of disillusionment and absence that pertains to the lead character. Andrea Riseborough practically embodies Tasya’s confused mental state, flipping the switch between robot-like functional modes: struggling to connect with her husband and son, stoically excelling corporate personality tests by her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and feeling more comfortable face-to-face with her own self. On the other side of the machine is the always reliable Christopher Abbott, whose dual nature in the film wrestles with itself much akin to his work in Piercing, albeit here the actor effectively gets to play two different characters. It is unquestionably a physically demanding role but one that gets thoroughly explored by Abbott, who depicts both characters with tangible on-screen reflexivity and disturbing unpredictability.
Much like its chameleonic, shape-shifting set of protagonists, Possessor excels at walking along that razor-thin line between lurid, extremely gruesome bodily mutilation and heady sci-fi topicality: demonstrably practical gore effects co-exist with deliberately provocative sociopolitical commentary, while flashy neon visuals mask the intrinsically inhospitable dystopian world. In his vision of the future, Cronenberg’s character study is perpetually far beyond one’s reach, and yet that somehow feels so appropriate for a film as alienating as Possessor – there’s only hope that this nightmarish future doesn’t become our present.
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