Possessor (2020) Will Take Over and Warp Your Mind
First Wide Release: October 2, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Runtime: 103 Minutes
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
An operative for a secretive organization performs assassinations by using advanced technology to inhabit the minds and bodies of targets close to their victims. Each time she goes under, she finds it harder to maintain control over her victim which leads to a power struggle as the identities fight for dominance. Director Brandon Cronenberg directions 2012’s Antiviral, another sci-fi horror film inhabiting similar but unrelated body horror.
Possessor is a slow-burning descent into top-notch body horror chaos propelled by quality acting, technical prowess, and storytelling.
The hook for Possessor is incredibly high concept and unique which pays off in dividends for patient viewers. Cronenberg takes his time feeding the viewer the necessary information bit by bit to understand the plot without over-explaining. Expert worldbuilding leads audiences to learn about futuristic tech jobs, the science behind possession, and new methods of surveillance. Possessor is also chock full of little detailed moments that are put forth with purpose. My favorite example involves a mounted butterfly, not only for the significance to the plot but the symbolism behind it.
Viewers aren’t privy to much information about the main characters. Due to the concept of the film, the lines are blurred on who is actually who in the moment. Taysa (Andrea Riseborough) only appears as fully herself a few times throughout the film, mostly in the very beginning and end. The bulk of her character’s presence is felt through her portrayal of Colin (Christopher Abbott) in her attempts to kill his soon-to-be family.
Flashes of her true self, and Colin’s, arise in moments of deep stress. Taysa is becoming more and more unhinged the longer she stays in this state, and it causes her to become even more brutal in her slayings. Colin fights back in an attempt to control his life. This mental sparring is fascinating to watch and makes for some interesting conflicts. While the rest of the cast give good performances, it’s clear that Riseborough and Abbott rise above the rest.
‘Beautiful’ is always a weird word to align with horror but Possessor is a beautiful, albeit raw, film. The possession sequences, while horrifying, are incredibly appealing to the eyes. Bright colors and lights dance across the screen as one human exerts their dominance and will over another. An effective score conjures lavish feelings while murders are planned and executed. At times, it does overpower the dialogue but one could argue that makes the film stronger as it ties back to the central premise of imposing on another person.
Possessor’s technical merits deserve incredible praise. In short, everything is fantastic. The special effects are realistic and evoke the exact reaction necessary to torment viewers. Combined with the expert editing, the mind/body merging sequences are the images out of nightmares. It’s like swimming in a pool of technicolor molasses, strings of rapid jump cuts overlay over drawn-out sequences of two bodies becoming one in a syrupy dreamlike assault on the senses. Without top-notch effects and editing departments, Possessor would not hit half as hard.
Cronenberg showcases an understanding of how to disorient, unnerve, and repulse an audience. Unrelenting in scope and horror, Possessor takes hold and never lets go, which makes for a punishing experience. While I found myself enamored, some pacing issues stop it from seamlessly transitioning from a few middle points to its heart-stopping conclusion. The trauma inflicted on the bodies of the characters mimics the assault on the audience’s mind. At least two sequences of family annihilation are sure to leave viewers in terror and disgust. Possessor is a dark and cerebral horror film that dares to be visually, artistically, and viscerally bold.
Plenty of great points are brought up in Possessor about the true nature of free will and human nature. Tasya makes the decision to undergo a dangerous procedure, regularly, to perform some of the most heinous acts a human can indulge in for the sole purpose of profit. What does that say of her? As the audience, we do not know what led Tasya to this role. It’s clear she is being coached by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), so she wasn’t always in this position. It makes me wonder how and why she started. The act of possessing others continues this conversation. Tasya acts as a puppeteer and coaxes them into unspeakable acts. But can she make people do what they aren’t already capable of doing? Possessor doesn’t give all the answers away which is what makes it a compelling piece of cinema to chew on long after it ends.
I’ll always want just a little bit more out of a movie, but Possessor is an absolute juggernaut of creepy sci-fi horror madness that delivers nonetheless. Wholly original and stylistically unique, Cronenberg continues to carve an incredible niche within the genre. This addition to his repertoire strongly suggests that he is only getting better and fully deserving of the praise thrown his way. I strongly recommend Possessor to anyone searching for something original and shocking.
Overall Score? 8/10