It would be easy to comment on Brandon Cronenberg’s work and noting that it has the literal DNA of David Cronenberg, creating visually stunning and sin crawling versions of twisted tales, but Possessor continues to prove that Brandon Cronenberg’s work is something of its own.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) kills for a living. But her story isn’t one of a mob hit woman, but one of a futuristic mind killer in a cyberpunk fever dream. Vos works for a mysterious organization that sends her consciousness into unsuspecting patsies whose bodies she uses to take life. Never an easy gig for the mother feeling less and less connected to her family, Vos’s stakes are raised when her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) preps her for one of her most valuable missions yet. She must step inside the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of a CEO’s daughter, and use his physical self to murder said CEO. Vos has been struggling with the ending directive of taking the life of the body she wears at the end of the mission, something that could make things difficult for this delicate job.
Possessor sounds and feels like the stripped-down science fiction you’d expect from dream heists in a Christopher Nolan movie, but it’s built up with blood, guts and dreamlike lighting. Cronenberg is great at gore, and uses the ever present blood in unique ways in how it gushes, pools, and stains. The opening kill throws blood from floor to ceiling and almost feels like a warning to the faint of heart that it’s not going to get cleaner. But beyond the blood spilled as per Vos’s propensity to use stabbing weapons over her issued revolver, is a tale of a workaholic struggling to reconcile her competing natures.
Vos has a difficult job, jumping between bodies and committing brutal murders, and it interferes with her desire to repair her relationship and be there for her son. This isn’t so much a tale of a woman balancing family and career, but more of a person struggling to supress the two versions of herself in favour of the other, and ultimately having to choose.
The story of a body hopping assassin is a simple concept, but by making it about competing selves, Cronenberg creates something much bigger. As a symbol for Vos becoming Tate and Vos gaining and loosing herself, the film cuts to her experiencing life as him while remaining herself, and even has one physically wear the face of the other in a terrifying scene that throws the science fiction piece into an abstract visual tale. The effects are unbelievable, specifically the visual manifestation of the body jumping that shows the bodies melting and being rebuilt, which, again, are an abstract representation of the otherwise straightforward sci-fi which makes this movie what it is.
Though Cronenberg does an expert job of creating the berserk visual scenes, the acting is an incredible standout. Riseborough does an unreal job portraying the soft-spoken killer who has to harness the skills of an actor or an undercover agent. She’s seen ‘getting into character’ by stalking and practicing her lines, and acts while inside a giant machine. Christopher Abbott absolutely blew me a way in his dual role, playing the comfortable Tate then later, Vos jammed inside Tate’s body. He nails his performance of someone else trying to be the cool version we saw of him earlier, then goes next level when he has to play the panicked version of himself breaking through his new programming.
It’s hard to imagine calling a science fiction tale with a massive blood budget “subtle” but the subtle details are an important part of this special tale. As Vos begins to veer towards the version of herself that will slay the other, her language changes, either because she is changing or she no longer wears the mask that makes her tell herself she should feel guilt.
Possessor builds a simple world where a secret organization can possess people to commit clandestine contract murders. Sure, these sorts are meant to make you think about your metaphysical theories of the self, make you consider the masks we wear and our primal instincts, and about balancing career an home life, but Cronenberg almost makes you want to forget about that and just be horrified.+