Cronenberg’s Possessor is the sci-fi wild ride you’ve been waiting for
Brandon Cronenberg’s sophomore feature Possessor is an intoxicating ride. Don’t believe the words of protagonist Tasya Vos when her unaware husband asks her about her recent work trip. “Dull, extremely dull,” she says, downplaying the alternate reality where she works as a hi-tech hitwoman.
Playing at London Film Festival, Possessor is the opposite of dull. It keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as they don’t quite know what might happen next. It is a murder scene — an extremely gory one, too — you can’t divert your eyes from.
Vos has the piercing, wide-eyed stare of Andrea Riseborough, once again in a challenging role she manages to infuse with complexity. Her character is a mother, becoming more and more unable to relate to her child with every murder. But she’s also a “star performer,” as her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) says when attempting to smooth-talk her. The protagonist, in fact, hijacks people’s bodies to enact complicated murder-suicide plots, controlling their minds, too. But what about her own?
Every time Vos comes back, something in her conscience seems to have disappeared, left behind in whatever body she had hosted. She is consumed and exhausted. Wearing a mask at home as well as several strangers’ bodies at work takes its toll on a woman, a human being, who’s constantly trying to fit — quite literally — into something she’s not.
Despite all the protocols put in place to ensure Vos’ safety, hers is not a clean job anymore. When she inhabits the body of Colin, played by Christopher Abbott, Vos finds herself reckoning with the highest resistance she has ever encountered. Their two consciences interact, causing a short circuit revealing Vos’ innermost, feral, dehumanizing instincts.
Possessor explores the conscience’s worst nightmares
This sci-fi horror thriller is set in a depressing-looking, bleak near-future. In this unappealing Toronto, Cronenberg manages to convey the conscience’s worst nightmares through visually stunning frames. The cinematography is by Karim Hussain, who recently crafted the suffocating atmospheres of Random Acts of Violence by Jay Baruchel.
Possessor is a brutal, stroboscopic, claustrophobic juxtaposition of grey, trivial images of the outer world and flashes of consciousness in neon lights.
These punch viewers in the face, leaving them to gasp for air as they try to make sense of their surroundings. It feels like the audience, too, is with Vos in a foreign, somewhat hostile environment. And it’s every bit as thrilling as it is terrifying.
Possessor is an infectious, ferocious sci-fi thriller that don’t shy away from exploring the darkest corners of the mind. Served by an eerie score by Jim Williams, the film plays with body horror practical effects to deliver over-the-top, grisly killings and fascinating, disturbing visions. Yet the true horror lies in the questions about human nature that the movie leaves unanswered. Whether the audience can, or wants to find their own answers is another, equally upsetting, matter.