Brandon Cronenberg impresses with a subtly horrific film featuring mind-control and corporate assassins.
While I’m sure many of you immediately see that name and think about his father, David Cronenberg. However, I have the unique experience of not having that insight. Not only have I never seen a Brandon Cronenberg film – I haven’t seen ANY Cronenberg films. So, if you’re looking for a comparison here, you’re not going to get it. As a general note, I am not a fan of comparing a director’s work, especially if it compares father and son. Nobody wants to be compared to their parents, and well, I don’t think it’s fair to the film I’m reviewing to compare them. What I will say is that this is the best horror film in recent years. The performances from Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott that could make an argument for awards contention and drive the film, even when the direction feels a bit lost in the weeds.\
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Girder, Andrea Riseborough’s boss, and the inventor of the mind control device that enables the user to take control of a host body. Through this device’s invention, she has built a side business to use the host’s body for corporate assassinations and disposing of the host once the job is done.
As one might imagine, this process takes a toll on the user. Girder is becoming too frail to use the machine and is looking to Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) to replace her eventually. She rarely sees her husband and son (Rossif Sutherland and Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), who just think she’s gone on some kind of business trip, instead of, y’know, a mass murderer.
Tasya is a bit too into her work. On her most recent job, instead of following the directive to commit suicide, she instead opts to repeatedly stab her target with a steak knife until the cops come.
Shortly after she recovers from this job, she’s told she has three days to assassinate the target before brain damage kicks in. Her host body is Colin (Christopher Abbott) and is the fiancé to the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of a wealthy CEO (Sean Bean). Tasya is asked to leave no loose ends, leaving the company to the person third-in-line. Things go south fast.
The gender politics and sensual feeling of a woman controlling a man are not lost on Brandon Cronenberg. Colin is almost portrayed as emotionless when Tasya first starts controlling Colin. She can’t find the right way for Colin to respond, act, or even remember the little things that Colin would or a male would. It’s an intriguing concept, as this squarely places the viewer in Tasya’s mind and alongside her journey.
On this journey, she still has to do her best not to arouse suspicion until she has the opportunity to kill all three targets. So, she goes to Colin’s job, where he has to data-mine webcam feeds for some kind of market research, all while sitting in a rather lo-fi VR rig, not too dissimilar to what Tasya is doing with Colin – but with more blood. On a rewatch, you’ll see exactly how similar their jobs are, and Cronenberg makes this explicit by including sequences where some beautiful, horrific FX shows what this possession looks like – Tasya melting and reconstructing her consciousness as Colin’s while a series of images clues the viewer into who is controlling who.
She’s often left fighting with Colin for control due to some unknown illness the film never specifies. Eventually, Tasya does manage to get the mission mostly complete. This is where Cronenberg’s direction shines for me. He’s concerned with the gore that coincides with killing a bunch of people – like squeezing an eyeball out of its socket. Then Colin takes control, and Cronenberg just dives into all of the psychological effects of the soul waking up.
All of this crazy psychological terror is wrapped in a moral question for the viewer – Who are you rooting for? Why? Possessor makes the case that both of them are being used. If either of them dies, they’re just another cog in a corporate machine that only cares about them while they can make them money. There’s a lot more that Brandon Cronenberg wants to discuss, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Possessor is now available to rent or buy.