FANTASTIC FEST 2021 REVIEW! In just his second feature, Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, has delivered the first great sci-fi horror movie of the decade with Possessor. In the future, corporations use internal agents to inhabit innocent people’s bodies to carry out high-profile assassinations for strategic gains. Tanya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is one such agent. In fact, she’s the star player at her secretive killing firm. But when the brain implant process takes its toll during an assignment, she begins to lose a grip on her own identity. Exploring self and identity, Cronenberg deftly explores heady material in a sci-fi horror candy coating, delivering a challenging ferocious film.
The action and concept are presented straight away with a bloody assassination in a nightclub. Miles away, Tanya lays on a white leather chaise with her head in a contraption guiding the host body from afar. After the assassination, she is to kill the host body with a shot to the head. Yet with this latest contract, her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), notices that Tanya is losing her grip on her true identity. Hesitant, Tanya accepts one last job in the form of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a coked-out rich boy with access to the CEO of a major tech company. The goal is to inhabit Colin’s body and have it murder Colin’s soon-to-be father in law John Parse (Sean Bean).
After going home to visit her estranged husband and 7-year-old son, Tanya returns to the facility to complete her final assassination. After the transfer, trouble ensues as various glitches in the technology are creating artifacts, hallucinations, and unpredictable behavior. Worse still, Colin’s hijacked personality begins fighting its way back to the surface. Will Tanya get the job done? Will Colin take over and trap Tanya in his body forever?
“…corporations use internal agents to inhabit innocent people’s bodies to carry out high-profile assassinations for strategic gains.”
Cronenberg’s script for Possessor deftly convinces the audience that its world is real. It sprinkles random details of the technology in context rather than laboriously over-explaining all of it. We watch the process and hear just enough technobabble to believe it, and then we are off and running. To this end, Leigh’s understated performance as the calm puppetmaster at the firm is grounded and unsettling.
After kidnapping Colin and implanting the device in his brain, Tanya transfers into Colin’s body and assumes his life. In a brilliant pair of performances, Abbot and Riseborough make us believe that Tanya is inhabiting a very alien male body. Standing before a mirror just after the transfer, Abbot portrays Tanya exploring her new host, lightly feeling the skin, looking at the odd genitalia in the front, and trying to act as normal. The two create a seamless illusion of a single personality.
Possessor explores all of the existential dilemmas this idea can afford to a frightening degree while telling an absorbing tale of corporate espionage. Cronenberg has created a mind-bending trip of a movie with more to say than your average actioner and is supported by spectacular performances and make-up and practical effects that seal the deal. Brace yourself. The film is brilliant.
Possessor screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the 2021 Fantastic Fest.
"…deftly explores heady material in a sci-fi horror candy coating..."