Time Out says
Brandon Cronenberg returns with a grisly sci-fi mind-bender worthy of his dad
Depicting needles being jabbed into scalps, gory stabbings and a particularly brutal mauling with a fireplace poker (all accomplished with practical effects), the unrated cut of Possessor is not for the squeamish. Clearly informed by his father’s work, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg has created a film that traffics in a similarly uncomfortable vein of body horror. Visceral violence and splattered plasma provide the messy window dressing for a narrative that explores the experience of losing one’s sense of self.
In an alternate version of the year 2008, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a skilled assassin who picks off high-profile targets by possessing other people’s bodies through a brain implant link. Her latest assignment tasks her with inhabiting Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) and killing his fiancée’s father – the wealthy CEO of a data-harvesting, Amazon-like tech company that Vos’s employer wants to take over. But once Vos gets inside Tate’s skin, hallucinations and hazy memories begin blurring the lines: who, here, is really controlling whom?
An actor portraying a co-star can be a difficult needle to thread, but Abbott’s rendering of Tate when Vos is pulling the strings smartly doesn’t go ‘Travolta-in-Face/Off’ big. Instead, you see just enough of Vos as herself prior to the mind-meld to recognise the small ways in which Abbott’s subdued performance echoes her mannerisms. It all gets a bit murky as the two characters start jockeying for control, but the lead-up is eerily convincing.
Just as effective is Cronenberg’s efficient world-building. It posits a society in which brain-control gadgets exist alongside privacy-invading home cameras, bulky vapes and VR headsets. An all-to-familiar sense of dependency on technology permeates things, accompanied by the requisite willingness to overlook the repercussions of giant corporations exerting control over human lives.
Steeped in big ideas and gallons of artificial haemoglobin, Possessor is a messy cinematic journey that leaves some of the dot-connecting to you. Even without the budget of The Matrix or Inception, Cronenberg delivers a similarly mind-bending ride that’s filled with gruesome set pieces and a clear message: it doesn’t matter if you’re piloting a mechanical drone or inhabiting a human one, the business of killing has a tendency to separate you from your identity. Not to mention your humanity.
Out in US cinemas and drive-ins now. Streaming in the UK from Nov 27.
Cast and crew
Jennifer Jason Leigh