It’s wild to have had something like this come out of such a stacked legacy.
Possessor tells the tale of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough). Supervised by a woman known only as “Girder” (Jennifer Jason Leigh), she’s working for a company that allows her to possess other human bodies in the world in order to commit high-profile assassinations. Her family life is starting to feel constraining, with ex-husband and still-lover Michael Vos (Rossif Sutherland) and their son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot) being people she just no longer connects with. Tasya’s life seems a mixture of humdrum and hellish, relying on totems to stay in the real world while desperately wanting to continue the choose-your-own-adventure employment despite guilt over the deaths she causes. When contracted to murder John Parse (Sean Bean), owner of a datamining company, she takes over the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). This guy is about to become Parse’s son-in-law by marrying Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Tasya and Colin’s worlds begin to blend and her control wavers as the job goes on, allowing for everything to go nuts.
While Possessor is only the second film from Brandon Cronenberg it can easily feel like his fourth or fifth. There’s confident small-budget filmmaking mixed with massive, Nolan-esque pornographic shots of an unnamed city that feel worthy of an IMAX viewing. Actually, all of the imagery feels worthy of that grand scale. Giallo-esque lighting and brilliant homegrown visual tricks inspired by children on YouTube have built something that looks impressively practical. Of particular note is a shot where water coming from a fountain seems to run in reverse, an effect achieved by using a subwoofer at the same hz as the camera, and that of a lone particle from a remembered possession that was done using sound waves to hold the object in midair.
It’s odd to see this skew so harshly into the realm of sci-fi after being marketed as a horror flick. I skipped out on trailers before diving in and only went with what other marketing was available. It’s horrific, but mostly comes down to the same feeling as the best of Black Mirror episodes. The genuine shock made it a fun affair, one that showed shades of daddy David Cronenberg’s work The Fly and Videodrome.
Brandon Cronenberg, like his father, has allowed his anxieties about the modern world to steep enough that he is able to mine the results for interesting storytelling. His first film, Antiviral, showed a world where people paid top dollar to be infected with the same diseases as their favorite celebrities. Now he’s gone a bit less satirical, instead using regular things like a datamining company and the access they have to your cameras alongside gender questions and power dynamics between the obvious sexes.
I mean…aren’t we all scared who is watching when our laptop camera is uncovered? Are our phones not advertising the things we openly discuss in front of them on our social media feeds?
There are some horrifying ideas beyond what lies on the surface of the film. It’s all frightening, from opening title to closing credits. Colin Tate works in the datamining office as an attempt to win the approval of Ava’s father, but the facility exists as a concrete warehouse where everyone wears goggles that make allow them all to work in a gorgeous digital office as they watch us play with our cats, have sex, make tea, and just live our humdrum lives. It’s particularly jarring to go from Christopher Abbott’s face enclosed in giant VR goggles to a beautifully designed fake corner office where he watches a man have sex with a prostitute while trying to focus on the drapes for advertisement purposes. This is the world we live in, and it’s not that far off from where we’re headed.
The sex isn’t just a thing to be ignored at work for Cronenberg, who seems highly interested in gender-bending and power dynamics. As Taysa takes control of Colin’s body she finds herself sexually attracted to Ava, relishing the control interplay during sex despite hours before merely laying there and fantasizing about death as her husband pounded away at her bored body. She expressed guilt at so much as the death of a butterfly, but when in the body of another she relishes everything. When asked why she didn’t just use the standard issue gun to make her kill (she opted for a knife thrust over and over into a portly gentleman, one whose body type closely resembles her husband’s) she does not give a firm answer. Sex and identity are tied tightly in modern society, with one’s sexual oreintation and a part of their public persona as we unfortunately still attempt to turn anyone outside of the basics into “other.” Cronenberg’s world gives power in not only sex but skin, allowing new angles and experiences. I find it wild that this tech exists in that world and that it seems only used for high-dollar assassinations when capitalism and marketing could make so much more money in an era of growing sex positivity. Oh well.
I can’t say this is a perfect film, but it’s damn close to being one. Brandon Cronenberg has stepped forward from his father’s shadow to create something that feels similar while maintaining its own identity. Sure, it’s got shades of Videodrome and Naked Lunch, but there’s more here in common with people like Scott Derrikson and Christopher Nolan and it allows separation from legacy. I’m overwhelmingly pleased with this vicious, poignant, mean effort and I can’t wait to see what the guy gives us next.