Opening with one of the most violently stunning set pieces witnessed in cinema in recent memory, Possessor suggests something of a techno-thriller is to follow in the 100-or-so minutes. But, almost to be expected given it has the Cronenberg name attached to it, the rug is more than swept out from underneath us as the duality of owning one’s mind and body emerges as the film’s narrative undercurrent, blending the psychological and visceral effects of proposed technological voyeurism in the process.
The opening sequence though – a gory execution – lays the foundation for Brandon Cronenberg‘s confronting film, setting up the narrative hook that in an alternate 2008 technology has been designed which allows hired assassins to infiltrate (or, possess, if you will) the psyche of particular citizens who happen to be in situations or relationships where they are close to VIPs who paying customers wish to put to death.
The leader in this particular field is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough, equally tough as she is tender), a collected killer whose years of possessing is clearly taking its toll on her both physically and mentally; her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), has to debrief her after each session in a bid to remind her of her true self. Vos’s distracted mentality – we see her struggling with the disintegration of her family life, having to practice the way she interacts with her husband and son – raises concern for Girder, who’s unsure if Vos can maintain her position within her field.
The test of her own autonomy and self-control within possessing another is brought to the foreground when she is assigned Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Assuring she is competent to complete the mission, Vos possesses Tate for a limited period to carry out the planned assassination of John Parse (Sean Bean), a wealthy CEO whose son has ordered a hit on in order to inherit the company; Parse’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton) being Colin’s fiancee utilised as their way in.
In addition to adjusting being in a man’s body, Vos (as Tate) is clearly battling Tate’s own willpower, with him rebelling against the system that is essentially raping him of his control. Whilst Possessor has both an action and science-fiction temperament at its core, Cronenberg, indulging in the body horror frame of mind of his father, David (The Fly, Videodrome, Existenz), injects the thematics of identity, guilt, gender identity and consent, constantly elevating this hallucinogenic horror film above its simplicities.
Whilst the film’s deserved R-rating leans into its shocking material, nothing on hand is ever done so for the sake of it; Cronenberg’s indulgence in horrifically violent material and unapologetic nudity almost feels as if he’s reminding his audience of the fragility of the human body. There’s much to be unnerved by – one sexual sequence briefly sees Vos brandishing an erect penis as the lines of her body and Tate’s become blurred – but it would seem discomfort is the point, with Cronenberg observing how important it is to hold on to our identity, but easily it can be corrupted – especially by those we have been designed to trust.
FILM REVIEW SCORE:
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Blu-Ray Special Features
Given the alternate world Cronenberg has created with Possessor, it stands to reason that his commentary on these intricacies would be explored, and a series of behind-the-scenes segment help scratch the surface. A Heightened World (10m 31s), Identity Crisis (14m 43s) and The Joy of Practical (12m 12s) all delve into how much thought and care Cronenberg has exercised, with cast and crew all expressing either their work process or admiration as to what was ultimately constructed. The fact that this film did everything practically is perhaps the greatest revelation these features uncover, and in learning how much effort went into the film, a deeper exploration or even an audio commentary would have been that much more appreciated.
A trio of deleted scenes – none of which add anything to the film, but are similarly interesting in their own way of exploring certain character traits or plots further – and Cronenberg’s bizarre short film Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences As They Come To You, a science fiction effort detailing an institutionalised woman’s recounts of her dreams, round out a semi-impressive extras collection that ultimately pale in comparison to the masterpiece of a film they accompany.
SPECIAL FEATURES REVIEW SCORE:
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Possessor is available to rent/buy on DVD, Blu-Ray and on digital platforms now.