Tasya Vos is the top professional assassin employed by a hire-for-murder agency who uses surgically implanted brain transceivers to insert agents’ consciousness into a person’s body who can get close to their intended kill target. The no contact procedure has been successful with some severe drawbacks, such as the potential for slipping out of your own identity in being, in one way, a part of many distinct personalities. When Vos’s next assignment is to insert herself into the mind of the soon-to-be son-in-law of a powerful tech CEO, her individuality begins to crumble, losing her grip as the primary inhabitant of the body. The commingled souls share thoughts and memories and when Vos takes a backseat in a body that’s no longer under her control, her life becomes vulnerable to a confused and unhinged man seeking vindictive measures to evict the assassin from his mind.
Like an existential extension of his father’s career, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg’s foothold within sci-fi horror is anchored by functional practicality, substantial social commentary, and a knack for exhibiting cynical undertones in his sophomore film, “Possessor,” a gripping tech-thriller avowing the soft-pedaled ambiguous identity and corporate invasiveness. “Possessor” is the blood soaked corrosion of individualism that strips morality and replaces it with unapologetic nihilism in a film that feels very much David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” merged with Paul Veerhoven’s “Total Recall” with that plug-and-play dystopian coat of paint that’s being brushed over the quickly disappearing free will. Studios involved in the making of “Possessor” include Rhombus Media (“Hobo with a Shotgun”) and Rook Films (“The Greasy Strangler”) in association with a WarnerMedia division company, Particular Crowd.
“Possessor’s” leading lady, Andrea Riseborough, is no stranger to idiosyncratic roles in equally atypical films having starred in “The Duffer Brothers'” “The Hidden” and played the titular character in the avant-garde horror, “Mandy,” across from Nicholas Cage; yet, from her experience with big-budget studio films, such as “Oblivion” starring Tom Cruise, the English actress felt the uneasy atmospherics to be pressurizing and uncomfortable Riseborough has thus exceled with films such as Cronenberg’s “Possessor” that’s pivots into an alcove just off the main halls of horror and science fiction. Riseborough looks nothing like herself from “Oblivion” by sporting a stark white hair on top of a thin frame, which could be said to be the very counter-opposite of what a typical, bug-budget assassin should look like, but Riseborough delivers stoic and uncharitable traits of a character on the brink of losing herself. Christopher Abbot delivers something a little more chaotic when his conscious retreats back into the depths of his psyche only to then seep back into his mind where he stumbles to catch up on current events. The “It Comes At Night” Abbott disembodies himself not once, but twice, becoming an avatar for Tasya Vos to play, picking up where Abbot’s Colin left off, and then Abbot has to regain control, splicing Colin back into the cockpit where Tasya commands the yoke. The dueling dispositions cease being unique as one attempts to control the other in a mental and corporeal game of chess, confounding audiences of who is in control during certain scenes, especially when Colin goes into a blackout murdering spree of people Colin himself knows and trusts. As a puppeteer moving a marionette, pulling as an influential strings behind company lines, is Girder, a poker-faced agent head seeking the absolute best in the company’s interest, who finds her thimblerigger in Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh, whose experience with David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” brought a high level of cognizance to “Possessor” having been an cerebral deep virtual reality trouper previously, folds in the nerve of any level of management that would guilt someone else into doing the work necessary to get the job done. Girder opposes Tasya’s external humanity in a silent, but deadly manner by appealing to the killer instinct in Taysa, letting red flags of the out of body experience fly by the waist side that ultimately wears away at her star pupils moral conscious and turn her into a stone cold killer. “Possessor” cast fills out with Tuppence Middleton (“Tormented”), Kaniehtiio Horn (“Mohawk”), Rossif Sutherland (“Dead Before Dawn 3D”), Raoul Bhaneja, Gage-Graham Arbuthnot, and “Silent Hill’s” Sean Bean in a worthwhile role just to see if his role will succumb to a typical doomed Sean Bean character as the undesirable tech CEO.
Its safe and sufficient to say that Cronenberg’s “Possessor” is not a feel good story; the amount of tooth-chipping, eye-gouging, and throat stabbing gore takes care of any hope and ebullient energy that one could misperceive. Yet, while the disgorged grisliness stands on it’s own, Cronenberg possesses a factor of tropes that multiply the film’s bleak, icy landscape inhabited by unpleasant characters that ultimately seek and destroy the little good exhibited. The obvious theme is the disconnect from one’s own identity. Tasya Vos mental capacity nears the breaking point being an inhabitant of numerous bodies and with each callous, bloodletting assignment, Vos’ indifference for the things she should hold dear strengthens immensely drowns in the persona of another person and the psyche breaking acts of violence. Her latest assassination attempt even blurs the lines of her sexuality as her feminine body parts merge with Colin’s masculinity in one of the craziest sex scenes to date. Colin’s individuality is too threatened but from Vos’ intrusion, equating the quiet, strange behavior to a sudden vagary toward a person’s dejection, being estranged from their own life, on the outside of “Possessor’s” alternate reality of science fiction’s hijacking of one’s brain. On the subject of intrusion, a not-so obvious theme, but certainly has a strong motif, is the severe invasion of privacy. Vos’ spying on Colin and his lover for personality intel, Vos’ inspection of the entire Colin body while inside inhabiting him, and the data mining of Sean Bean’s character’s tech company, which pries itself through the optics of people’s computer cameras to garner information, such as the fabric of window curtains in this case, divulge an uncomfortable message that privacy is a luxury we are unable to ever grasp. There’s even a scene where Vos, in Colin, becomes a voyeuristic participant of a couple’s explicit sexual intercourse during data mining work hours. Despite the breadth of technology that are brimming near our fingertips today, “Possessor” has a very analog approach with dials and switches of seemingly antiquated electronic circuits, thus rendering the story grounded in nuts and bolts rather than being lost in the overly saturated and stimulated advanced tech. Beguiling with a somber serenade, “Possessor’s” a highly-intelligent work of diverse, topical qualms seeded by years of body horror and existentialism and is released into a world that’s perhaps not ready to come to terms with much of the themes it will present.
Come October 2nd* to select drive-ins and theaters, “Possessor” will be distributed uncut by Neon, implanted in the midst of horror’s biggest month of the year. Since not a physical release as of yet, the A/V attributes will not be critiques, but the film is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is under the cinematography direction of Karim Hussain, who has previously worked with Brandon Cronenberg on his debut film, “Antiviral.” Hussain adds rich two-tone coloring for a symmetry of sterilization that is, essentially, white and black with every shade of both in between tinted slightly with a dull hue on the spectrum and with the blood being that much more graphically illuminated against the backdrop. There are moments of composites that could render a person disabled with epilepsy, so be warned. The audio is a smorgasbord of a jarring ambience and soundtrack, adding to “Possessor’s” fluxing turmoil, but the dialogue discerns a little less sharply across; there was difficulty in understanding characters’ monologues or discourse who came across mumbling through scenes of fuzzy earshot. There were no bonus materials to mention nor were there bonus scenes during or after the credits. Perhaps the best movie you won’t see this year, “Possessor’s” an impressive follow up feature that reaches out beyond the outlining border of a vast and prolific filmic shadow looming over the filmmaker, but Brandon Cronenberg contrives new vitiated wonderments and is capable of casting his own umbra that would eclipse to throw light onto his soon to be seen cathartic body of work.
* Release date correction (9/29/20)