Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Written by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Rossif Sutherland, Raoul Bhaneja, Christopher Jacot, Matthew Garlick, Megan Vincent, Doug MacLeod, Gabrielle Graham, Rachael Crawford, Hanneke Talbot, Danny Waugh, Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves, Kaniehtiio Horn, Deragh Campbell, Dorren Lee
Is it possible Brandon Cronenberg is ready to topple his father, David Cronenberg as the King of Body Horror? Man, it sure seems like he is gearing for greatness. After enjoying his first film ANTIVIRAL immensely, Cronenberg returns with POSSESSOR and tops himself at telling creepy, cerebral, and sophisticated body horror masterpieces.
MANDY’s Andrea Riseborough stars as Tasya Vos, an agent for a secret government organization that seems to be in charge of assassinating influential people. The organization does this by transferring Tasya’s mind into a civilian close to the target and then pulling her out of that civilian’s mind after the civilian seemingly commits suicide. It seems Tasya has been doing this dangerous business for a long time and her support system, appropriately called Girder (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) feels that the stress has been too much for Tasya. But after a small break to see her estranged husband and her son, Tasya is ready for her next assignment. This assignment calls for Tasya to leap into the mind of Colin Tate (IT COMES AT NIGHT’s Christopher Abbott), but this leap proves to be a difficult one as Tasya and Colin battle for control of Colin’s body.
While POSSESSOR is billed as a science fiction film, you really can’t get much horrific than this one. This is mainly due to the extremely graphic violence that occurs while Tasya is in control of her drone bodies. Cronenberg has a way of getting in close for the carnage with quick shots of wounds being made, blood spurting, and also the actions and looks of all around. This combo makes this violence feel much more impactful and intimate, as if you’re riding along in the body with Tasya and experiencing this horror. The results are numerous scenes of bloody murder filled with blood-soaked floors, clothes, and walls.
In between these acts of horror, Cronenberg enters the mind of Tasya and Colin to show us literally a mind and soul being undone and sewn back together. The creative and nightmarish imagery of POSSESSOR during the, for lack of a better word, mind-meld involve the tearing of flesh, melting of self, and vivid strobes of unnatural light. When Tasya and Colin battle it out inside Colin’s body for control, the world is upended, and duplicated as if reality is using a faulty copy machine. Again, Cronenberg brings us an intimate look inside to see the battle. This is no slapstick arguing with oneself that we’ve seen in ALL OF ME, EVIL DEAD II, and other fun flicks. This is an all out battle from the inside out that will get under your skin.
While the concepts are pretty lofty, every one is committed to selling the out-there concepts at play in POSSESSOR. Andrea Riseborough once again plays a haunting role, a role she perfected in MANDY. While she is shown doing heinous things while inside the bodies of others, we are shown how much these procedures weigh on her soul. This, paired with the scenes she shares trying to be social and human with her distanced family, humanizes her and had me rooting for her, even when she is taking over the seemingly innocent mind of Colin. Abbott is also very strong here and while it is often unclear whether he is acting out his own hidden urges or simply caving to Tasya’s influence, he conveys that battle for the sake of his soul extremely well.
POSSESSOR might be a bit long in the tooth in terms of runtime. The film develops the process Tasta undergoes, then fleshes her out, and then moves on to letting us get to know not only Colin, but Tasya experiencing the world through Colin. That’s a lot of ground to cover and being a comic book and sci fi enthusiast, I understood right away about the mind transference. I understand Cronenberg might have walked it slow in order not to lose his viewers, but there were moments that felt like things were being overexplained here and there. I did find myself questioning whether Tasya’s problems with this transfer into Colin’s mind had more to do with Tasya’s weakened will or the strength of Colin’s. We never get a real chance to know much about Colin himself, so I feel the former is more accurate, but it was somewhat unclear nevertheless.
POSSESSOR taps into pure nightmare over and over, delving into dark reaches of the soul of the individual and shows an up close and personal look at that soul being shredded to pieces. It’s a painful and unsettling film that will resonate long after its over.