The human mind is a battleground overflowing with emotive expressions, confusion, confliction and animalistic natures that cannot be tamed. It is within this psyche that we begin to question our innermost thoughts and feelings, our connection with the world around us and our own purpose. Brandon Cronenberg takes this mental conception and transforms it into one of the most exhilarating and intelligent pieces of filmmaking in his body horror film Possessor. If you thought you understood your own identity and your own desires, after experiencing this film, you will be left with the bewildering knowledge that perhaps everything we thought about ourselves could be based on control and manipulation.
Since 2012 Cronenberg has been an exciting name that has piqued my interest every time there is a slight whisper of his projects, and we’re not talking about his infamous father. Some may argue that Cronenberg is helped by being the prodigy birthed from one of the master’s of body horror, however it seems this could be viewed as a hindrance. With such pressure to live up to the family name, Cronenberg could have fallen into the depths of disappointment. But with his debut horror, Antiviral, he lavishly demonstrated that he could meld societal problems into thematic theories that not only embody mind-fuckery but ensure that the journey into the body is a violent and visceral experience.
Spiralling further into the world of mind and body horror, Cronenberg looks at the dangers of a reality in which the soul can inhabit another’s body for purposes such as carrying out assassinations. This is where we are introduced to Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin comparable to no other; one that immerses herself in her work so deeply that she has over time come to lose elements of herself to the hosts that she inhabits and eradicates on disposal of the body. Her latest work assignment involves asserting dominance over the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) in order to perpetuate murder against his father-in-law, and in doing so, pass the father’s company over to the man next in charge.
Possessor does not tread lightly from the beginning, by lulling us into a sense of security. Instead, the film accomplishes the opposite, submerging the audience into a thickening substance and holding our heads underwater for the duration of the film. With an unsettling, emotional and unflinching opening scene painted with ultra-violence and shades of red, the tech-nightmare gradually begins to drown the audience in oppression. It is clear from the very outset that Vos has become unstabilised in herself, from a constant cycle of mind-jumping from cerebral host to cerebral host, losing little aspects of her identity along the way. She collects small fragments of others’ identities to create a person that isn’t quite human in the way they are expected to be. Andrea Riseborough gives an enigmatic and phenomenal performance as Vos, navigating this eerie and unsettling infrastructure that examines identity confusion, body dysmorphia and the loss of one’s self.
Although Vos has been given a job that she must complete, which involves assassinating targets, we are led to understand that she is always equipped with a pistol in order to carry out the murder quickly, efficiently and as cleanly as possible. But during a conversation with her boss Girder, played fascinatingly well by Jennifer Jason Leigh, it comes to light how she opts to use more violent means of death. Vos believes it is more ‘in character’, which Girder questions if she is referring to her character or the host’s. From this point forward, we begin to see how violence becomes something built into Vos’ personality; she needs it, she craves it, she even sexualises it. She cannot escape from her evocative need for violence and blood. Which is why once she inhabits Colin Tate’s body, her obsession and addiction to violence and becoming another identity gradually become overbearing.
Once inside Colin Tate, the outstanding performance from Christopher Abbott comes to the foreground and provides the audience with an insight into both Vos and Colin’s state of mind. Abbott manages to deliver a two-sided spectacle, personifying the masculine and the feminine from both personalities and easily melding the two together. He keeps the audience chasing their curiosity over which mind is in control, and never being fully certain of this fact. This internal battle between the two minds dances across the screen with sheer luminance, and allows the viewer to feel completely overwhelmed and magnetised to what is happening on screen. The representation and realisation of the two souls co-existing and inhabiting one body is a unique concept full of intrigue, allowing us to delve deeper into questions of identity, theories about our existence, and the idea of transcending from astral planes to a further type of existence.
One of the most impressive features of the entire film is the stunning yet disturbing visuals throughout the film. It is slick and stylish, something already portrayed in Cronenberg’s clinically cold aesthetics of Antiviral, yet exacerbated in Possessor. The practical effects in place are created by one of the most talented and exciting people working in the genre, Dan Martin, who has provided exemplary works for notable films such as Host, Lords of Chaos and Colour Out of Space. Through the practical effects, we see the visualisation of transformation and transference of the mind with a melting body, which might just be one of the most powerful images to come from body horror and cinema in recent years. Every slither of practical effect throughout the film adds another integral layer to the film and leaves a visual indent within our mind’s canvas, one that will come back and haunt you at later moments.
Cronenberg understands the allure of the body and how to effectively inject horror in the veins of said body whilst making sure there is more on screen than just gruesome elements. Although delivering scenes of high-glossed violence, there is more than meets the mind’s eye with this film; it is one that scatters commentary on societal issues whilst layering in discussion points around how humans perceive themselves and those around them. Possessor is gruesome yet gorgeous, polished with style but bleak in matter, and intelligently conversational whilst leaving you scraping for words. This is a parasitic film that worms itself into your consciousness and nestles itself there, leaving lingering and controlling thoughts for days.
Possessor is available on digital platforms from 27 November 2020.