Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough, Mandy) isn’t feeling quite herself today—or most days, for that matter. She is a Possessor—she works as an elite assassin, but doesn’t get her own hands dirty; instead, she uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving these unwilling hitmen to do her job. The spoils go to the ruthless and greedy company that employs her. After nearly botching one mission, Tasya is soon sent on another by her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, eXistenZ).
The contract killer’s latest task involves taking over the body and mind of Colin (Christopher Abbott, Vox Lux), the slacker husband of a wealthy heiress, Ava (Tuppence Middleton, Downton Abbey). Ava’s mean mogul dad, John (Sean Bean, Game of Thrones), has made millions in tech, and Tasya’s company wants all the wealth and the data for themselves. So, she’s sent to use Colin as a murderous marionette to rub out Ava and John—but Colin’s will is far stronger than anticipated. Now that Tasya is ensconced inside his mind, can she ever get back out?
The reason Taysa was so clumsy with the initial assassination, and why she is having trouble getting a grip on her second, is anybody’s guess. But it’s a good bet that all the cranial drilling and mind manipulation is taking its toll. Her top-secret work comes at a price for her personally, as her relationships with her husband and young son are strained and shadowy. Of course, none of that will matter if Colin keeps her trapped and foils her plan.
Possessor puts Riseborough and Abbott go through the wringer, as seen in these demanding roles where they have to show us two minds wrestling for control of one body. They each pull it off admirably, as dazzling as the design is, and as gory as the set-pieces are, without such anchored and convincing performances, the story would not have worked as well as it does.
Possessor is written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the master of the “body horror” genre, David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly). The younger Cronenberg’s first film, Antiviral, also a sci-fi horror hybrid, had a similarly audacious, thought-provoking premise. In that film, rabid fans paid top dollar to have themselves injected with viruses (flu, herpes) of their favorite celebrities. Possessor, set in an alternate 2008, explores similarly dangerous, dystopian themes. There’s no doubt Cronenberg is following in his father’s footsteps, but at the same, he is forging a path of his own. Let’s just hope there’s not as long a wait for his third film as there was for Possessor!
Possessor, especially the uncut version I watched, is full of no-holds-barred blood and violence, and yet, it feels more sci-fi than horror. It’s an abstract, artsy film, too—think Mandy or The Neon Demon. The meticulous world-building is beautiful to behold, and everything from the saturated color palette to the surreal music score falls into place perfectly. Having said that, some overly-indulgent passages drag on for a bit too long, making one wish for a few more edits and trims.
Despite the limited amount of releases, 2020 has been a strong year for science fiction—The Invisible Man, Color Out of Space, The Vast of Night, Vivarium, and Tenet, to name a few—and Possessor stands tall among the best.