Possessor Review: Cronenberg creates an enthralling, original, visually mesmerizing sci-fi thriller
The sophomore feature from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, Possessor, is a mind-bending trek into sci-fi horror thriller that treads new ground with its wildly imaginative premise.
Possessor honestly might have one of the most original and thrilling concepts in years as we meet a new kind of assassin. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a professional possessor – a contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into civilians in order to carry out covert assassinations. With their fingerprints being nowhere near the crime and there’re being no real consequences to enacting brutal assassinations, possessors can really pull of the perfect kind of stealth kill. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t psychological consequences to being a possessor. There’s certainly a part of themselves that’s lost in transferring over to another body and a mental strain like no other. However, Tasya is still one of the best possessors in the field and faces new challenges when her newest assignment doesn’t go as planned.
Cronenberg brings us into this world of psychological espionage perfectly with the tremendous set-up that showcases life as a possessor as well as the great practical effects that only a Cronenberg could bring and Riseborough’s great performance. Jumping right into Tasya performing an assassination, it’s easy to the see the mental fortitude and power that possessors have on the job. They seamlessly slip into the life of someone else and can catch anyone off-guard and pull off the perfect hit. There’s a lot of intriguing surveillance that has to be done in order for possessors to be able to speak and act like the person they are possessing in order for there to be no suspicions. Even once the connection between the possessor and the possessed is terminated, possessors have to go through a post-interview that has them identify personal totems to make sure that there’s lurking presence of the person they’ve possessed. There’re definitely some shades of Inception that can be felt with Possessor, but Cronenberg really keeps things grounded with some of the visual elements and practical effects used throughout the film.
Possessing is certainly now walk in the park and requires some unimaginable physical and mental strain that Cronenberg makes visually intriguing. The metal mask contraption that Tasya uses be able to possess people just screams sci-fi and the issues and consequences that can come from mistakes made while possessing put Taysa’s life in terrible jeopardy. Cronenberg even takes some pages from his father, legendary horror director David Cronenberg, with some of the practical horrors he brings to the film. Just the initial image of watching someone stick a metal rod in their head to establish a stronger connection with the possessor was enough for me freak me out, but Cronenberg doesn’t stop there. As Tasya begins to struggle to maintain mental dominance, there’re these incredibly trippy moments and horrifying visuals that show Tasya and the man that she’s possessing, Colin (Christopher Abbott), being torn apart by their battle for power. There’re this skin-crawling false-face sequence that perfectly captures how destructive their connection is and there’re tons of horrifying transition visuals that just leave you shook and build up the tension of who’s going to remain in control when everything is done.
Where the real horrors of possessing come out though is in the performances of Riseborough and Abbott. Riseborough creates a sense of empathy and deep-seeded demons with Taysa as she always exudes this sense of exhaustion and isolation that sadly comes with the profession. She’s totally disconnected from her family and life as a whole because of how she lived and ended the lives of so many others. She legitimately embodies the “thousand-yard stare” that traumatized soldiers can have and it’s cuts deep with how detached she is from humanity. Abbott especially impresses with what’s likely his best performance to date as he not only creates empathetic fear with Colin, but also carries over all of the great work from Riseborough’s performance once Taysa possesses Colin. It’s an excellent dual performance that’s not only incredibly complex as Colin and Taysa battle for dominance, but a testament to the Abbott’s acting range and Cronenberg’s incredible direction.
All of this comes together to tell a tensely thrilling story full of themes about privacy being stripped away and horrifying conclusions that alter the lives of Colin and Taysa forever. Cronenberg expertly creates a world devoid of privacy with how the possessors act and even showing Colin’s job as someone who invades laptop cameras for a curtain company to see what kinds of curtains and drapes someone has. It’s a world that immediately makes you uneasy and sets the perfect tone for the horrors that are uncovered as Taysa and Colin battle for control. The second that Taysa gets into Colin, there’s this tension and suspense that constantly puts you on edge and the film maintains these feelings by adding new threats that could compromise Taysa’s mission and alter the lives of Taysa and Colin for good. It’s all builds to devastating conclusions that leave a bloody mess and a pit in your gut as Taysa professional and personal lives come together in unwanted ways.
Possessor showcases Brandon Cronenberg as a modern visionary as he creates a unique and thrilling original narrative filled with amazingly horrifying effects that live up to the Cronenberg name and performances that never cease to amaze. It hooks you right from the jump and proceeds to twist and bend you mind as it sucks you into its weird and wild premise – all of the right ingredients for an incredibly taut and tantalizing sci-fi thriller.