Possessor (aka Possessor Uncut) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, is an apple that certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Possessor is as much a psychological horror of the loss of identity as it is a grotesque display of horrific violence and cerebral erotica. It’s an echo of Cronenberg’s penchant for surreal body horror but feels as though it’s taking those graphic elements to a new degree, embracing a more piercing edge of the grizzly than David’s usual psychosexual explorations.
Brandon throws us straight into the premise with only a few bits of hand-held exposition from the masterminds behind the operations. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) works as a spy of sorts. But rather than try to match the look of the person she’ll be impersonating, she takes the whole body of the part she plays. Vos works for a corporate organization as an assassin that utilizes a sci-fi device that allows her to take on the body of someone and commit the murder she needs to carry out. She kills her target, messages her scientist co-workers to pull her out, and kills the host. It’s an efficient way of carrying out corporate kills for the company but may be a different deal for Vos.
Given that the machinery used for Vos’s many brain transfers looks fairly retro, there’s concern that it may degrade her mind. She is given several tests after each mission to ensure she still has a functioning memory. When not on the clock, her life seems dreary. She’s divorced from her husband who she no longer loves, despite him being very welcoming of her back into his home. She has a son but doesn’t feel present for him. She would much rather be working, if only to feel something for the unconventional stim she gets from the experience.
Vos is tasked with her toughest mission yet when embodying the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). She learns all she can about her host, that he’s a low-level employee at a corporation for scanning people’s webcams, having attained the job from her wife’s wealthy father. Through Colin, Vos learns to become accustom and comfortable with the body. Perhaps even too comfy, as when she gets to into the sex with Colin’s wife, imagining herself with a penis. The comfort may prove to be her downfall as she soon discovers she has less control over the mission than she thought.
There’s a lot of surreal Cronenberg hallmarks present in the twisty nature of this tale. There’s that brilliantly layered moment where Vos inside Colin takes on his job of spying on other people, including those having sex. Vos is also revealed to be quite unstable as she starts seeing flashes of time that bend the reality of her own host, seeing water and matter flowing backwards. A constant questioning echoes throughout the film of just how much Vos may be losing herself and her identity within her work. This aspect is given the most chilling of reveals where Colin takes hold of his own body and also peers into the memories of Vos. And true to the spy formula, both Vos and Colin are unsure who they can trust, both inside and outside their respective organizations.
Having watched the uncut version, Possessor is absolutely not for the faint of heart. There’s some incredibly graphic sex scenes and grotesque close-ups of teeth and eyes being forced out of bodies. Shots linger on long enough so that the audience is thoroughly disgusted with Vos and her work, where stabbings last for nearly a minute and blood paints floors. Those willing to take the ride, however, will be greatly rewarded with a visually stunning picture of creepy implications about how precious are subconscious can be, especially if it’s a part of your own profession.