Written by Alina Faulds
Possessor is the latest film from Brandon Cronenberg, another attempt to live up to his father’s legendary status in the industry. On one hand, he succeeds, the sci-fi body horror is just what one would expect from a Cronenberg flick, on the other hand, Possessor doesn’t live up to its hype often losing itself in its poor pacing and fails to properly convey a message. Possessor is violent, arthouse, graphic, and just plain weird. Plenty of people are going to love it for these reasons and will actually take something from the film, but it won’t do much for the average movie watcher.
A highpoint of Possessor is its opening as Cronenberg throws the viewer straight into the film wasting no time on exposition. Holly (Gabrielle Graham) begins stabbing a random man before putting a gun into her own mouth while screaming “Get me out!” Next Holly is dead and Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up in her own body, lying in some sort of machine. The sequence is chaotic and whiplash-inducing, and full of a lot more blood than necessary. A perfect set-up for what the audience should expect out of Possessor.
Instead of ghosts and demons, it’s Tasya that’s the “Possessor.” An assassin working for a mysterious organization, they use the aforementioned machines to take over random people’s bodies, using them as pawns in their missions to assassinate too-rich targets. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character supervises the twisted science experiment but not much else is explained. When Tasya comes out of the machine she is given objects to trigger her own memories and remind her who she is. Tasya is struggling in her job, while she’s supposed to be cold and calculating, she begins to struggle as she thinks about her own family, she’s beginning to feel empathy for the people whose bodies she’s stealing. This comes to a head when she possesses Colin’s body (Christopher Abbott), the two battling against each other for control.
Possessor definitely has a compelling storyline but the pacing loses itself especially in the middle of the film. It gets rather dull as Tasya in Colin’s body is getting ready to off her next target, needing to prove herself to those in Colin’s life. With a compelling beginning and an incredible ending, unfortunately, Possessor is bookended by two great scenes that make the rest of it a snooze. Where Possessor does excel outside these scenes is in its visuals, especially those when the body’s two souls are fighting for control. With chilling screams and nightmare-inducing faces, the practical effects shine in these sequences, as they do in the killings as well. The acting between Riseborough and Abbott excel in these scenes as well.
The other problem in Possessor is Cronenberg keeps saying the same thing. Tasya is struggling in her job and especially in Colin’s body, clearly shown in the multiple gross soul-ripping scenes. But Cronenberg never explains why this is the case, just that possessing other people’s bodies is bad. Possessor loses its touch here, getting a little too vague. Again it’s for these reasons why Possessor is such a divisive film, some will love the ambiguousness, trying to find an answer on their own. Others won’t like it, frustrated at the answers Cronenberg refuses to give the audience.
Possessor is part of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 line up.
VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/
You can follow Alina Faulds’ Letterboxd, Twitter, or Instagram and view more of her work here.