It has been a good eight or so years since Brandon Cronenberg had a dig at filmmaking with his first feature, Antiviral. Let’s be honest; it’s is never going to be a walk in the park when you have to follow your father’s footsteps in the directorial chair. However, there have been a few notable success stories with the likes of Sofia Coppola, Jason Reitman, and Rob Reiner. With that in mind, it gives me immense pleasure to report that Possessor is an absolute triumph and a ridiculously bloody good time at the pictures.
The story follows Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin who completes jobs by ‘possessing’ the bodies of other individuals to get closer to high-profile hits. Right off the bat, we have an excellent template for the exploration of themes on identity. Possessor, in many ways, serves as an ode to self-reckoning, and a complete unknowing of who you *really* are. In an interview with Idolator, Cronenberg says that he found himself “sitting up in the morning and feeling like I was sitting up into someone else’s life, and having to madly scramble to construct some character who could operate in that context”. Even before seeing this quote, I could see Brandon’s intent on the screen.
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Cronenberg presents our protagonist’s life outside of work in a similar vein. Tasya lives in a grey building complex with her partner and her son (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). Even before entering the building, she has to practice how she will greet her child. Struggling, yet trying to appear human, making Tasya’s job profoundly destructive to her own livelihood. I, for one, was able to connect in some way to the feeling of not belonging in your own body. The anxiety experienced by many people about being frauds – frauds of the mind – makes this film a surprisingly sympathetic piece.
Do not worry, fans of gore, because Possessor has it to spare in buckets. There were a few particular moments that had me literally twisting in my seat, horrified by the images I was being forced to see. At the same time, however, I was sufficiently thrilled and ready for more. Possessor is kind of like Upgrade (especially with the addition of a dirty synth soundtrack by Jim Williams), but with a sharper focus on subconscious stability rather than AI takeover. Brandon also delights us with these intercut moments of not so gory, but horrifying creepy body horror which underline his message on knowing the ‘self’, particularly with this fantastic practical effect upon Tasya’s transition into a new host. They, assumingly, cast wax bodies of the actors then heated them, giving them this wickedly sick melting look. The majority of the FX were done in-camera with the help of Dan Martin (Color Out of Space) and Derek Liscoumb (The Silence).
The positive, if not slightly lukewarm, reception to Possessor perplexes me for many reasons. Looking at all of the elements in play, Possessor often looks outstanding for what it is. Moreover, narratively, Cronenberg succeeds in hoodwinking the viewer until we understand what’s going on. I was hooked on unraveling the mystery for myself, and it paid off. It might help to go into this one blind (don’t watch the trailers, experience it for yourself), and I think there’s a lot to appreciate about what Possessor achieves as body horror, and as a psychodrama, making this a fine future addition to the realm of cult cinema.
Possessor Links – IMDb