This was a slow weekend for me movie-wise so I decided to catch up on a film or two I missed in 2020 and one particular entry in the year’s release schedule that peaked my interest but I never found the time to experience was “Possessor”. There are a lot of reasons why “Possessor” has gained attention, not the least of which is that it’s directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the master of body horror himself David Cronenberg. Mixing science fiction thrills with effective yet reserved horror elements, “Possessor” provides a unique and inspired narrative that continues to prove how both of its genres still have plenty to offer for those willing to embrace them. “Possessor” is a cold, dark, engaging film that continues the Cronenberg legacy of expertly crafting horror, science fiction and thrills in a tightly woven package.
Contrary to what its name might imply, “Possessor” is not about a ghost possession. Rather the plot revolves around Tasya Vos, played by recent horror mainstay Andrea Riseborough, who serves as an assassin under her handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Tasya performs her missions by controlling, or possessing, other people and taking over their lives briefly and using them to commit the killings making each crime look motivated and personal rather than a hit. The film follows her latest mission taking over the body of a man named Colin (Christopher Abbott) however when things don’t go as planned Colin begins to fight back for his conciseness forcing Tasya and Girder to take drastic measures to maintain their secrecy and complete the job. In reality though “Possessor’s” narrative is much more complex than that being layered with character moments and plenty of slow burn drama and gore to earn its sci-fi/horror label. In spite of its more artistic qualities, what we have here is a film that’s both fun and inspired melding the best of insightful genre work with the blood and violence we’ve come to expect from the Cronenberg family.
I’ll admit going into “Possessor” I wasn’t quite sure what I was walking into but I’m glad I finally gave it a try. The story of this film isn’t exactly completely original as we’ve seen body swapping and mind hijacking in films before, but the way it’s used in this movie feels unique and inspired. Instead of focusing on a larger science in the manner of most Christopher Nolan sci-fi flicks, Brandon Cronenberg is more focused on showing us one specific example of the technology presented, following one assassin doing one job and how this technology can prove to be a perfect tool as well as a risky tactic filled with potential flaws. Hidden deeper below the surface is an interesting examination of identity and empathy among other things. Tasya as a character explores how easy it can be for us as people to be unfeeling of the actions of someone else as long as they don’t affect us directly. There’s also a little technophobia mixed in for spice commenting on how we’ve surrendered our privacy and personalities in favor of capitalism and our own selfish endeavors and wants. The scariest element of this movie isn’t the blood and violence, but the possibility of this technology being real and the idea of losing control of our own free will thus putting those around us in danger. It’s pretty compelling stuff complimented by a layered character arc for Andrea Riseborough who starts the film off a more compassionate killer just doing a job and by the end of the movie finds herself to be someone else entirely.
Besides the depth and story, this is an effective cringe fest living up to the Cronenberg name. While Brandon doesn’t delve deep into body horror like his father did, he’s certainly not above showing us the gruesome nature of the action on screen. The opening sequence in this movie, which is fantastic all on its own and set a high bar the film thankfully lives up to, contains some genuinely uncomfortable imagery and had me looking away from the screen which is hard to do considering how many horror films I watch every year. Props go to the actress who is center stage in the opening, Gabrielle Graham, who makes the very most of her short time on screen. Even with all the blood and violence “Possessor” feels somehow tasteful because none of this violence feels gratuitous. It serves a greater purpose to help establish the disconnect between Tasya and her victims. It also challenges the viewer. Do you feel for the person being killed or are you immune to it? The film forces you to come to grips with your answer albeit indirectly. It’s only when Tasya has to commit suicide to return to her own body where she shows remorse. This duality, her inability to kill herself or her vessel (but only because her mind in inside) but her seamlessly slaughtering others, immediately sets the tone for the themes of this film and it’s not all that obvious either. Like any good movie you have to read between the lines giving the project more complexity than I think most viewers might expect going in.
“Possessor” is an easy movie for me to recommend. It’s a science fiction-horror blend with plenty of layers complimented by a committed director and actors who, regardless of their significance to the bigger picture, give it their all. It’s certainly a contender for one of the best horror films of the year on its concepts and theming alone, but the fact that it feels inspired and unique is a rarity in an industry where it’s become a cliché to say they’ve run out of ideas. Brandon Cronenberg and company have provided a genuinely memorable experience that might make us all look in the mirror and question how we look at the world and whether or not we have become heartless to the troubles that don’t affect our lives directly. In a year where a pandemic has forced us all to either accept helping our neighbor or deny limitations for our own selfish needs, this may be one of the most in-your-face movie of 2020 and yet even if you choose to ignore all that it’s still an engaging and thrilling cross-genre work of art.