Review: Disturbing, cerebral, 'Possessor' not for the squeamish
Courtesy of NEON
In the case of the bizarre horror flick “Possessor” or, as some refer to it “Possessor: Uncut,” the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as director Brandon Cronenberg seems to have inherited his dads’ eye for the obscure. Brandon’s father, David, would have loved to get his hands on something like this, but in his son’s grasp, we’re given one of the year’s most unforgettable films, and I’m not sure whether to mean that as a complement or not.
In any case, “Possessor” presents its fair share of challenges for the casual viewer, guaranteed to alienate those who don’t mesh with the cerebral connotations being thrown at them. As a science fiction outing, the film could lean more into that medium, but as straight horror, this is a disturbing little gem, populated with lots of blood not meant for those who get squeamish easily.
The film introduces us to master assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose earned a reputation for being the best at what she does. Namely because her method of killing is cruel - by possessing the body of someone with access to her target, executing the victim, then killing the host to transport back into her own subconscious. There’s a risk each time she does this and small fractions of her psychosis get lost in the fusing of bodies. Upon completion of a task, she must undergo a series of “Blade Runner” style tests to determine if she’s fit, mentally, for the field again.
But we learn in the opening minutes, Tasya has been struggling with pulling the trigger after successfully completing the job. This has been a worrying downfall for the elite killer, one that grows to extreme lengths on her next assignment: the assassination of wealthy tycoon John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Tasya’s host is Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) or Ava’s fiancée, and what starts as an easy hit, quickly turns into something more ravaging once it becomes obvious that Vos mental stability is in question.
Considering the laundry list of novels, movies, and series that have embodied (no pun intended) the spirit of body swap flicks, Cronenberg takes the genre to new heights. This isn’t a film that’s keen on tricking the audience with cheap jump scares and is unwavering in its commitment of shock value. Both Riseborough and Abbot turn in terrific, fractured, performances struggling with their own disoriented reality. Abbot must carry the load of playing two different people lodging inside the same body and a strong supporting cast rounded out by Jennifer Jason Leigh help add some form of stability to an otherwise bonkers experience.
“Possessor” is the definition of midnight madness and feels like it was plucked from the list of Grindhouse favorites of the 1960s-1980s. There’s plenty of violence, and enough pools of blood to make any Eli Roth fan blush. In fact, there’s buckets of the stuff, almost teetering on the edge of satire. Perhaps that’s the point, and my mind shatters just thinking about those implications.
POSSESSOR opens in select drive-ins and theaters October 2nd. It’ll be available on digital/video on demand November 6th.