Cronenberg. The surname itself signals that Possessor is going to be deeply provocative.
Son of David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg, is fully realising every bit of his family’s legacy with Possessor. The sci-fi horror checks all the heritage hallmarks – body horror, unflinching gore, ethical conundrums and brutal delivery – all somehow still wrapped in a beautiful gauze of luxurious cinematography. It’s an effective formula that flits between the fascinating fine line between disgust and desire.
In a very high-tech alternate world in 2008, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a highly-proficient assassin with a twist – her company specialises in an implant that can transfer consciousness, allowing her to control a victim to commit her hits.
While this sounds good on paper, Tasya is experiencing the effects of identity dissociation. As she trains herself to mimic her hosts in behaviour, she begins to lose grip of her own and has hallucinatory episodes that terrify her and threaten the safety of her family. She deals with this by plunging herself more deeply into her work.
Her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is happy to lead her down towards full disconnection from her secular attachments, believing it will make her the ultimate assassin. As a milestone achievement, she assigns Tasya a high-yield case that promises extraordinary returns for the entire company and Tasya happily assumes the training. Having ignored warning signs of the mental strain, they go into the assignment hastily and soon learn that they have to deal with the fallout of a compromised mission.
Pardon my French but it seems appropriate here, but It’s clear that the Cronenbergs really love f***ing with the minds of their audience. In the very best way of course. Brandon happily muddles reality in Possessor by milking all the elements the film medium has, to fully deliver the effects of a meltdown as he pulls on our brains like one prepares taffy.
The viewer can’t escape the horrifying descent into madness. It’s the visuals, the score and script. It’s the decaying faces and dislocated appendages. It’s the haunted expressions and betrayal and realisations. Possessor’s premise is terrifying in itself, but Cronenberg delivers the story full-hilt with his expertise in the grotesque. Fans of gore will be pleased.
It may be that the film takes inspiration from the cordyceps fungi which infects and controls the host. Like the parasite, Possessor works wonderfully at festering the viewer with an unyielding horror. And yet even those who will diss the unadulterated gore cannot ignore the film does present compelling topics to look at. From the more upfront topic of mental health to shades of body dysmorphia, Possessor may appear callous but is really a cerebral and necessary vehicle to jumpstart ignored realities.