Possessor Is The Most Disturbing Movie You’ll See This Year
‘Identity theft is not a joke, Jim,’ Dwight barked. In Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg’s volatile chiller, there’s nary a shred of doubt on the matter.
Industrial espionage and corruption doesn’t tend to tickle one’s horror pickle, usually explored via the fare of John Grisham works and paranoid, ultra-mature thrillers like Michael Clayton.
In this breed of dystopia, a hypnotically gnarly marriage of Philip K. Dick, Charlie Brooker, Christopher Nolan’s Inception– another exception to the rule – and pure genre sadism, it’s the unlikely vehicle for mind-warping techno-carnage.
Check out the trailer for Possessor below:
Cronenberg and body horror: cinema synonyms. He brought painstakingly grotesque gore to the fore in Scanners, Shivers and, best of all, The Fly. Later, it became more of a fixture than the prime attraction, like Eastern Promises’ s throat-slitting or A History of Violence‘s diner fight.
Like his dad, Cronenberg likes mixing the ick with what makes us tick. Take Antiviral, his debut film that skewered obsessive celebrity fandom. While somewhat under the radar and needing refinement, its morbid satire was ripe, indicative of something special to come.
Now, it’s arrived, marking a bold step on the director’s own two feet distinct enough to forge his own legend under the family name. If Videodrome’s VHS era sci-fi foresaw a future lit by screens, Possessor’s narrative evokes the loss of self, a classic horror theme, and potent contemporary fears over privacy with a nasty edge.
We open on Holly (Gabrielle Graham), veering from tears to emotionless gaze in the mirror. She injects a needle straight into her scalp like an audio jack, its gushing squelch hurriedly sending hands to heads. Dressed in a tracksuit, we follow her as she makes her way through a classy restaurant, all while Jim Williams’ nerve-scratching score hums away in the spirit of his brilliant work on Kill List.
It’s clear she’s there to kill someone, equipped with a pistol. Alas, the gun goes unused – Holly opts to stab the unknown gent in the throat with a knife, proceeding to slash, gash and open him up like a slab of rotten meat as screams bounce off the walls. Even Agent 47 would wince.
Of course, it’s not actually Holly. As the host falls in a hail of bullets, her controller Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up gasping for air like Neo aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. ‘The neural link is clearly severed,’ she’s told, ensured through a baseline test, a little like Blade Runner 2049. Then, it’s time to move on – welcome to Possessor.
Via outsourced abduction, virtual reality-esque set ups and science that, thankfully, isn’t laboured over, Tasya’s employer literally puts the psyche of assassins into other people. Meanwhile, the other mind is reduced to a passenger, peeking over the surface as they’re forced to witness the dying of their own light.
While this brings to mind a warp drive transition or something cheesier, Cronenberg and cinematographer Karim Hussain – capturing the film in a dazzling mix of pulsating neon and gritty, cold aesthetics in an alternate 2008 Toronto – illustrate the melting of two bodies rebuilt in a mesmerising sequence.
At the whims of her seemingly warm, still amoral handler (Jennifer Jason Leigh), she’s her ‘star performer’ in a new league of hostile takeovers. There’s no fascinating, larger-than-life targets; this is clinical capitalism, executing corporate figures to amass control. ‘No body is safe’ is the tagline, an adage put to harrowing limits later.
The movie really kicks into gear with Tasya’s main mission, tasked with killing the CEO of a data-mining firm (of course, it’s Sean Bean, on deliciously acrid form) under the skin of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a newly-employed layabout romantically involved with his daughter (Tuppence Middleton).
The immediate and lasting punch of the film comes from its violence. Take something as simple as being shot in the face: while most films would show the wound and pull away, Cronenberg lets the frame linger over the spurting bullet hole.
There’s the extreme side too, frequently indulged, such as beating someone to a pulp with a fireplace poker and gouging out their teeth. It’s impressively staged and cripplingly realistic, less theatrical than his dad’s SFX creations – the toughest of stomachs may have a wobble. Utterly, utterly merciless. It’s also clearly going for the midnight circuit with its Uncut branding in the US.
It’s bloody entertaining and appropriate, considering our lead. Riseborough, expectedly, turns in a fabulous performance as a woman caught in the limbo of her mind. It’s interesting to see a Black Mirror alumnus star in something so culturally indebted to the show – gizmos being used for ultra-malicious means are its bread and butter – if far apart in outré flair.
While not on screen for very long, she carries weight with the middling character work afforded in Cronenberg’s opaque script, whether it’s practising her normal guise before greeting her family or watching it fall mid-intercourse as flickers of her bloodbath replay in her head.
Abbott is a terrific actor who really latches onto the battling personas here. It’s not particularly flamboyant, subtly embodying Riseborough’s temperament until their collision becomes too much to bear (the sound mix of their voices is also rather effective).
However, the prevailing nature of Cronenberg’s craft here is far more interested in being an artistic, visceral exercise than an overly cerebral one. The confounding, flesh-stretching nightmares are second-to-none, but at 104 minutes long, one would expect more of an attachment to Tasya and Colin’s plight beyond the primal. The concept is inspired, but the screenplay lacks depth.
Possessor is an unforgiving, awe-sickening work of ultraviolence for a world on the fringes of control. ‘Be afraid, be very afraid.’
Possessor hits UK cinemas on November 27. Reviewed as part of London Film Festival.
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