‘Possessor’ Movie Review: High-Concept Body Horror Is Visually Stunning
You see the name Cronenberg, you know you’re in for something deep in the realm of the unsettling. While most of us are used to getting our spines tingled by David, his son Brandon Cronenberg has taken it upon himself to continue carrying the family torch into familiar territory — with some extremely compelling results.
Possessor, the young Cronenberg’s sophomore feature, initially comes off as some high-concept science fiction closer to Christopher Nolan than William Friedkin: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an assassin who performs her hits by having her consciousness streamed into the body of another human who then does the actual killing. Tasya works for a shady organization that sells these hits to the highest bidders, overseen by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
From the get-go, Riseborough’s deliciously off-putting performance demonstrates that not all is right with Tasya, but she agrees to perform another big hit anyways: inhabiting the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), she’s going to kill the CEO of the one of the world’s most powerful data mining companies, played by Sean Bean. Tasya can’t maintain as firm a hold on Tate’s body as she needs to, and things begin to collapse into some truly disturbing formations.
Performances are top-notch all around, with Abbott warranting special praise for so deftly seemingly like a person pretending to be … himself. Despite all of the blood and gore, there are some interesting things going on here conceptually as well — I expect that some day there will be a very compelling essay written on how Possessor functions as a commentary on surveillance capitalism.
Even so, the film’s biggest selling point is far and away its visual flair. Cronenberg and his cinematographer Karim Hussain clearly have an instinct for beautiful framing, but it’s the visualization of the internal that truly steal the show. Just from the what’s in the frame alone, Cronenberg makes it possible to grasp the struggle going on in Colin’s body and the effect that it has on both him and Tasya. So rarely is the grotesque so enrapturing as well.
While some of the film certainly wades into the gratuitous, Cronenberg generally makes up for it well with a steadily paced plot and some compelling set pieces thrown in to boot. Possessor may only be Cronenberg’s second feature, but it feels like the man already has a lifetime of experience behind him in the genre — I suppose that, in a way, he does.