In Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, Andrea Riseborough stars as Tasya Vos, a corporate assassin who weaponises the mind and body of an unsuspecting mark to gain access to someone close to them. Part mind-twisting cerebral sci-fi, part stomach-churning body horror, the film is reminiscent of work by the director’s father, the master of body horror himself, David Cronenberg.
Recently separated single mother Vos is hired by a contract killing organisation headed by the enigmatic Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Her latest mission is to find and liquidate unscrupulous media tycoon John Parse (a snarling Sean Bean in fine form) with the help of his unsuspecting future son-in-law Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), who works as a lowly technician at Parse’s technology firm.
Using brain-implant technology, Vos takes control of Tate’s mind and body and finds herself living his life. She plans to assassinate Parse and pass it off as a revenge killing caused by a drunken argument between Tate and his fiancée Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton) at her father’s house. But as Vos sinks deeper into her assignment, she finds herself trapped in Tate’s body, unable to separate herself from him or cleanly finish her mission.
In his debut feature-length film, Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg explored celebrity culture in a world in which obsessive fans deliberately infected themselves with the diseases of their idols in order to feel closer to them. In Possessor, he turns to examine the physical and societal threats of modern technology in a near-future dominated by both analogue and digital technology. It is a world in which big corporations manipulate each other by infiltrating the bodies and minds of those at the top of the food chain, in order to destroy them from the inside.
Murders are depicted in gruesome and horrific detail, and leave very little to the imagination. Brandon Cronenberg demonstrates that no matter how far humans stray from their physical limitations, the mind can always be relied upon to remind them of who they really are and where they came from.
Riseborough is mesmerising as Vos, giving a career best performance. She cuts a ghostly figure as her character attempts to piece herself together after each soul-destroying mission. For his part, Abbott delivers an outstanding and courageous effort in an admittedly demanding role. He plays Tate with the kind of vulnerability and likability we have come to expect from him ever since his appearance in HBO’s popular TV series Girls.
Overall, Possessor feels both fresh and tense and full of surprising twists and turns. It successfully explores our experiences with modern anxieties and how we deal with them. Granted, this might not be for the faint-hearted, but if you are able to stomach its gorier elements, the reward is far greater than enduring yet another allegory- laden lazy narrative.
This is truly one of the best and smartest films of the past decade. In a year when most sci-fi fans had pinned their hopes on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to deliver some much-needed escapism, Possessor surpasses those expectations by some distance.
Possessor is out in the US and Canada, and scheduled for release in the UK on 27 November.