Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
Considering his lineage, it’s no surprise that Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor adheres to certain adjectives: nightmarish; gruesome; visceral and yet strangely delicate, its explosions of violence and corporeal horror all the more unsettling for their intimacy. A coldly pristine examination of violence and identity which cribs perhaps too liberally from the senior Cronenberg’s work, Possessor nonetheless tells its story with slick confidence, featuring excellent performances and an arresting visual palette.
Andrea Riseborough is Tas, an assassin who gains access to her targets through possessing the bodies of those closest to them. Working under her enigmatic handler (Leigh), Tas is assigned a job which involves her possessing the body of a young man (Abbott) in order to take out his girlfriend and her mega-rich corporation-owning father (Bean, playing a complete bastard and obviously having some fun with it).
What follows is an insight into an apparently long-brewing personal disintegration; Tas regularly becomes other people and, as such, gradually struggles to be herself. She rehearses how to engage in small talk with her husband and young son; she obsessively analyses her target’s speech patterns ahead of the possession, to more effectively ‘be’ them for a while. Identity is an unstable, slippery, easily fractured thing, and as various complications arise on the job, Tas and the man she has possessed begin to battle for psychic dominance.
Much of the film is a two-hander between Riseborough and Abbott, and both are excellent, conveying much with a change of posture or rearrangement of facial expression. As the film is increasingly swallowed in gory sci-fi horror weirdness, their performances elevate too, becoming all the more unhinged and manic. The cast is fairly small and not a single bad performance is given, but the two principle leads are particularly deserving of attention here.
Possessor skilfully creates an air of seething tension and dread, occasionally punctuated by wince-inducing violence and sequences of fleshy, hallucinogenic horror which feel ripped straight from Videodrome. This is perhaps the film’s biggest issue; as entertaining and well-crafted as Possessor is, watching the film I ultimately couldn’t escape a nagging sense that it is – stylistically and thematically – very similar to the output of the elder Cronenberg. It’s like watching an excellent tribute band who has meticulously studied every facet of their inspiration’s work… but they’re still not quite the real thing. Perhaps, considering the film’s plot, this is appropriate; the spirit or psyche of the father working through the son.
Highfalutin conjecture aside, Possessor is solid, creepy, beautifully composed but ultimately unsurprising. It’s certainly worth the time of any self-confessed body horror/dark sci-fi fan (and no doubt someone’s eventual gateway into said interests), but offers little in the way of surprises. This year, maybe that’s actually something to be thankful for.