Brandon Cronenberg's techno-horror starring Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott is nightmarish and compelling viewing
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
At about the mid-way point of Brandon Cronenberg’s compelling techno-horror set in an alternate 2008, a powerful business magnate (played by Sean Bean) makes a gleeful toast to boredom; his data mining company makes its big bucks from spying on the population and manipulating it for nefarious capitalist means. Also exploiting state-of-the-art technology for gain is a faceless corporate agency of assassins who literally invade the mind of a person close to their target in order to take them out.
On its surface, Possessor is a meticulously poised sci-fi thriller following assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) through a challenging mission, but there’s more than meets the eye, as it viscerally channels a sense of dissatisfaction, numbness, despair and feeling like an intruder in your own life with impressive effects, striking visuals and disturbing violence.
Cronenberg places the viewer straight into the action with zero explanation and we first meet Vos inside Holly (Gabrielle Graham), preparing for a kill and staring into the mirror, tears streaming down her face. But why is she so distraught? Soon after her mission is completed with bloody blunt force, she requests “Pull me out”, and it is revealed her body is in fact in a secret facility; a place where she undergoes mental evaluation under the watchful eye of her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their working relationship and Vos’ messy personal life is key to unfolding events.
When Vos enters the mind of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) – a worker at the aforementioned business magnate’s company and partner to his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) - the pair's unfurling distorted reality and loss of control makes for unsettling and thought-provoking viewing. There's echoes of Cronenberg's father's gooey, body horror from 1999's eXistenZ with both films inspecting the relationship between bodies, mind and technology in almost tangible and sexually suggestive ways.
The strong cast which includes two of the best working actors today, Abbott and Riseborough, turn in shifting performances laced with a powerful volatility. As the central characters merge together, fighting over one body, the screen turns blurry, a penetrating score kicks in and the practical effects work by Daniel Martin delivers unnerving melting wax prosthetics and shocking gore.
Cronenberg’s gloriously inventive and unpredictable film never overexplains its concept and it's all the better for it. The calculated moves of its central character are mirrored seamlessly in a tightly written script that has a strong hold on pertinent moral issues concerning commerce and technology. Simultaneously, the film interrogates human desire, identity, discontent and loss of humanity with a nightmarish quality that also cannily taps into the fragility of the psyche.
Possessor is available on digital platforms on 27 November from Signature Entertainment.
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Screenwriter: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Running time: 103 mins