Possessor is utterly unique.
A film that feels this original, disturbing and pulsating rarely arrives without some rough edges. But every moment of Brandon Cronenberg’s trippy, psychedelic nightmare feels meticulously arranged and gaged to produce raw, visceral reactions from the audience.
The story follows Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin working under the watchful auspices of Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she prepares for the biggest mission of her career. Using an ultra high-tech brain implant, Vos will enter the mind of someone close to her target in order to carry out the hit and be long gone before the police arrive to investigate. Her target (Sean Bean) will see his assassin as his daughter’s disappointing boyfriend Colin (Christopher Abbott), and Vos will create a narrative that makes the murder seem anything but planned.
The synopsis above sounds like the kind of high concept film idea that Christopher Nolan would be convincing studios to spend big on, delivering sweeping action scenes and dense, obtuse dialogue. What Cronenberg instead serves up is a film rich with imagery and ideas, with lashings of blood and gore that may turn the stomach as easily as his visuals distort the mind. And I would argue, in so doing, creates a film much more interesting than the bombastics of a large Hollywood production.
The film is fascinated with ideas of what actually makes us ‘us’, of the power of identity and self and just what it would take to lose them. As the film barrels on and events begin to unravel, the line between Vos and her prey begin to break down and blur.
The scenes of Vos and Colin fighting for control in some sort of psychedelic netherworld are some of the film’s most haunting moments, and it is to the credit of the film maker that these quieter moments don’t get lost in the blood-soaked murders that might shock and appal in equal manner.
The colour palette of Possessor adds to the films off kilter feel, where every frame is designed to evoke an unsteady feel in the viewer; the striking reds and yellows of the piece occasionally invoking the giallo-style film making of Dario Argento, dizzying the audience as he paints nightmarish scenes that haunt the subconscious.
Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) delivers another captivating performance in the lead role. Vos is a character who struggles to hold on to who she is as she leaps from body to body, carrying out inhuman acts of torturous violence on her unsuspecting victims.
Christopher Abbott (It Comes at Night) is the unfortunate receptacle for Vos’ mind, and is arguably the films secret weapon. Playing the dual roles of Colin and Vos, Abbott rises to the occasion and delivers an unsettling and sympathetic performance as we watch him battle for control of his own body, shifting from ruthless murderer to panicked victim in the blink of an eye.
As the central target of the film, Sean Bean chews the scenery as the bastard father-in-law that nobody wants. His on-screen death in almost every role he plays has become an internet trope in recent years, so as soon as Bean’s face shows up on screen it feels it is only a matter of time before he meets his end. Possessor approaches this in an interesting way, and events play out in a disgustingly unusual fashion that is not for the faint of heart.
It’s always exciting to see the arrival of a new voice in horror. With his second film, Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a dense, memorable film that bears repeat viewing.
Filled with truly unsettling moments and the sort of gore often reserved for more niche movies, he has crafted the sort of film that his father would have been proud to have made in his heyday.
By Hugh McStay
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