POSSESSOR Movie Poster | ©2020 Neon

POSSESSOR Movie Poster | ©2020 Neon

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Raoul Bhaneja, Gabrielle Graham
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Distributor: Neon
Release Date: October 9, 2020

POSSESSOR is classic Cronenberg. Normally, one wants to take any filmmaker on their own terms, but in the case of POSSESSOR writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, he’s created a work that could easily be taken for one made by his father, David Cronenberg, during the ‘70s or ‘80s.

This is because POSSESSOR has many themes that the elder Cronenberg explored: body horror, alienation from the self, power dynamics within a single person, and technology put to extremely strange purposes. Furthermore, the style here is reminiscent of those earlier films, with imaginative graphic gore and visual precision. Brandon Cronenberg has his own voice and enormous skill, but even if there were no familial connection, the influence in both story and technique is strong.

It doesn’t do to give too much away of POSSESSOR’s plot. We start by seeing upscale hotel maid Holly (Gabrielle Graham), having some sort of wire removed from her brain, which seems to cause moment-by-moment emotional swings. When we see Holly again, she’s changed her hairstyle, commits a murder in public, almost commits actual suicide, and then shoots at the police arriving on the scene, prompting them to shoot back and kill her.

We then meet Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), who appears very unwell. When she’s slightly better, Tasya takes a meeting with her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Then, against Girder’s wishes, Tasya flies home to see her estranged husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland), and their young son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). Michael would like to reconcile with Tasya. Tasya indicates this is what she wants as well, but soon she’s accepted another assignment.

Tasya finds herself in the skin of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). She takes some interest in her new male body, but her possession is not total, and eventually, there’s an internal battle for control.

Some of POSSESSOR takes place inside Tasya’s and Colin’s minds. Cronenberg comes up with startling, visceral methods of depicting how each views what is happening. The images are haunting and unsettling, and the thriller aspect is slick and well-conceived.

We are continually intrigued, leaning in to find out what’s going to happen next. However, we’re not ever especially involved. We never get to meet Colin before he’s at least partially possessed, and we don’t see enough of Tasya as herself to get a strong sense of either character’s full identity. What we do see keeps us curious as to what will happen, but not invested. We’re at a remove from both the protagonists and everyone in their orbit, and therefore stay detached. This isn’t precisely wrong, but it feels a little at odds for a story about people’s inner workings.

That said, Abbott does a stellar job of showing us the tug of war going on inside of Colin, keeping it credible without ever pushing it too far. Riseborough convinces us as someone who identifies with her job more than she does with herself, and Leigh is quietly impressive as a cool tactician. Sean Bean is fine in a supporting role as Colin’s prospective father-in-law.

POSSESSOR deserves to be seen. It’s quite a head trip for sci-fi and horror fans. Arguably, it would be even better if it were a soul trip as well, but one usually can’t have everything.

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