Brandon Cronenberg‘s excellent sophomore feature, Possessor, wants you to know what kind of movie it is right off the bat. It opens with a disturbing image of an unnamed young woman sticking a black, metal rod into her head. A few moments later, she goes to a party and walks up to a businessman then stab his neck with a knife before moving to his body to continue stabbing him over and over and over again. Blood’s spurting everywhere and soaking the screen. You either feel intrigued or disgusted by it. If you’re more on the latter, it’s totally understandable; Possessor is not a movie for everyone. But if you choose to continue, you will be rewarded with a sci-fi, thriller unlike anything before.
Being An Impostor
Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, a killer-for-hire at a techno-company run by a woman named Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh in a brief but memorable performance), which uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies in order to carry out a corporate assassination. We first meet her as she’s just finished her latest assignment, feeling unsettled and disoriented over whatever impact that the brain-implant does to her head. It turns out that the woman we meet during the opening scene is just one of the hosts that Vos possesses.
Though Vos is the top assassin at the company, it’s obvious that the job has slowly caused some damaged to her life and sanity. Repressed memories from the hosts keep surfacing as her own identity slowly vanishes. The violence that she carries on in every mission has also begun to make her question her own humanity. She clearly needs some time off. Problem is, when she’s not being an assassin, Vos doesn’t really know who she is anymore. So anytime Girder offers her a new assignment, Vos just couldn’t refuse. She always ends up saying yes no matter how big the risks are.
Vos’ latest mission is to kill the CEO of a data-mining company named John Parse (Sean Bean) using the body of Colin Tatte (Christopher Abbott), who is the boyfriend of Parse’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton), and an employee at the company in question. Before possessing Colin’s body, Vos decides to spy on him so that she can mimic the way he talks and moves. But the real challenge here isn’t whether she’ll get caught or not for not impersonating him well enough. Rather, it’s one of power play, as Colin’s own consciousness tries to fight Vos back over his own body.
This battle for control between Vos and Colin is where Possessor gets most of its insane moments. A peek inside the two characters’ consciousness is displayed in the most inventive way, with Cronenberg‘s masterful visual storytelling making sure that every image is not only disturbing but will also linger inside our mind for a very long time. But it’s not just the director’s bold vision that, in the end, makes Possessor memorable; Karim Hussain‘s cinematography, which mostly is drenched in yellow and red neon-light, as well as Dan Martin‘s special effects, ups the movie’s horrifying imageries even higher. There’s even one moment where Riseborough’s face is melting like a marshmallow before Abbott wears it as if it’s a mask.
It’s a full gory body-horror, and Cronenberg isn’t playing coy at all. He goes in, and he goes in real deep. The narrative may get clunky along the way, especially as the movie reaches its jaw-dropping climax. But the visual and the stellar performances from both Riseborough and Abbott — the latter, in particular, is a standout, showcasing his character’s confusion and fear in detail while remarkably playing two characters at once — are enough to keep you hooked.
More Than Just A Body-Swap Horror
What’s even more fascinating about Possessor is how layered the story actually is. At its core, the movie tries to examine identity and the human tendency for violence. What if we wake up one day and we aren’t really who we are anymore? What does it mean to step into other people’s identities? Possessor may not give a direct and clear answer to those big questions in the end, but through the inner battle happening inside Colin’s body, as well as through the way Vos’ act at the beginning of the movie, there’s still plenty to think about.
Ideas about capitalism and class also come into play, and Cronenberg‘s script is even more confident when it comes to exploring this topic. In the movie, Girder’s company has the purpose of murdering Jeff Bezos-like CEO such as Parse, mostly for the benefit of a less-capitalistic third party. But ironically, Girder’s way of running her own company feels more in-line with the belief that she tries to fight in the first place. We can see this from the way she manipulates Vos into taking more assignments instead of giving her the time off she clearly needs.
Possessor seems to suggest that when it comes to money, the well-being of the lower or working classes, like one of Vos and Colin, will be tossed aside and even sacrificed in any way possible, while the one who has the control, like Girder or her client, will get all the benefits at the end of the day. When we take a look at our reality right now, this idea isn’t too far-fetched at all. We live in a world where the rich will always be rich, and the working and lower classes are always going to be nothing but an economic value for the rich. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. Cronenberg just lays it all out for us to realize.
Possessor‘s disturbing body-horror imageries will without a doubt unsettle most of its audience. But deep down, what the movie offers isn’t just violence and shock value. It has real ideas about identity and capitalism. The journey may be flawed at times, but damn if it’s not impressive.
What do you think of the ending? Let us know in the comments below!
Possessor will be released on US and Canada theaters and drive-ins starting from 2 October 2020.
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