This is IT folks, the real deal. A great concept beautifully realised. A perfect slice of speculative techno horror and a fantastic feature length debut from Brandon Cronenberg.
First lets give the elephant in the room a fat sack of peanuts: Brandon Cronenberg is, yes, the son of that David Cronenberg and, yes, he has certainly picked up a few things from dear papa:
Grisly subject matter: Check. Grim technology used for nefarious ends: Check. Icy performances from emotionally damaged characters: Check. Lashings of gore and blood pumping in spurts from open wounds? Check.
In this regard Brandon is certainly carrying on the family tradition regarding the Cronenbergian approach to surreal and grotesque (and in so doing transcending the usual genre niches). But he also puts his own stylistic flourishes into the film that fortifies Possessor into a prescient and substantial work that can stand quite comfortably on it’s own merits and be a part of the Cronenberg f̶r̶a̶n̶c̶h̶i̶s̶e̶ dynasty. It’s not flawless! Hell what film is. But it is pretty gosh darn good. And it is very pretty to look at too! More so than the muddy ’70’s turd browns of Cronenburg senior’s palette choice anyway.
The story in ‘Possessor’ is thus: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an agent who works for a Black Ops organisation who implant targets with a mind controlling device operated remotely by their agents in order to perform high level assassinations. The film opens with Tasya in the body of a professional hostess. Crying her eyes out as he emotionally calibrates with the body of her host, right before she enters a bar and savagely carves up a wealthy looking gentleman with a dinner knife. After that she slices open her host’s throat and wakes up in her own body.
Of course Tasya loves her work! So much so that she simply can’t wait to leave her perfect family behind to get back to it! Her boss, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (channeling a certain meaty surgically enhanced facial aesthetic perfected by Mickey Rourke) can’t help but sympathise. And offers her a hit in which she must inhabit the body of Colin Tate, played aptly by Christopher Abbott. A small time coke dealer who happens to be the boyfriend of a billionaire’s daughter.
Tasya follows Colin, getting his diction and mannerisms right, so that when she inhabits him she can more easily ‘pass’ as him in front of his nearest and dearest. Kind of like Konstantin Stanislavski combined with Richard Kuklinski. Anyway, Colin has an interesting day job courtesy of his girlfriend’s father and intended target John Parse, played by Sean Bean. Colin, via virtual reality goggles must quickly catalog the interior furniture of video streamers. Cue a quite a graphic sex scene in the uncut version where Tasya as Colin fails to concentrate on describing the curtains in the bedroom of a couple of active amateur webcam pornographers. Of course, with Tasya masquerading as Colin, within Colin, things don’t go according to plan…
So far so Cronenburgian. But Brandon is doing things a little differently. The first stamp of his own auteurship (yes I know it sounds wanky but fuck it) is his eye for detail. Nothing is placed in front of the camera lens without an intense degree of thought and consideration. The sets are both sumptuous, chilling and very unsettling. From the very beginning in the opening scenes where the first ‘possessee’ walks up a flight of stairs into some vaulted cellar ceilinged bar located in a sky scraper (!), you get a strong sense of matter out of place. Of one thing masquerading as another. Indeed in that initial opening the camera follows a spine like sculpture along the ceiling of the bar which made me wonder if that sculpture was made for the film or something Brandon had seen and marked.
From then on, every location seems to have a particular purpose and significance, imbuing the film with a distinct feeling of geodemographic horror. From Tasya Vos’s grotesque modern McMansion that she lives in with her unsuspecting husband and daughter. Which overlooks an interminable row of garages, with apartments attached as afterthought. All with exposed electricity meters. To the stunningly disorientating skyline of Toronto; presented as a cornucopia of glass office-scape apartments reflecting garishly back at each other. As though the whole city were some true to life urban panopticon of blank indifference. Even Tom Parse, the targeted billionaire entrepreneur has his own terrible ostentatious interior displayed in over-carved, over-veined marble and golden gilt.
Honestly I’ve not seen anything this good regarding the dystopian horror of architecture since Gattaca  and High Rise . The latter of which is surely no coincidence, considering Cronenberg senior made a pretty decent stab of filming JG Ballard with Crash in 1996.
As for the rest of the story. Well I don’t want to give away too much. There are stories with twists and there are stories with turns. Compared to those Possessor is a helter-skelter standing tall above the rest of the fair. Let’s just say that Andrea Risborough imbues Tasya Vos with not only a chilling enjoyment of her work but also a certain amount of sleight of hand. Certainly it is grim grim grim, but beautifully so. Go and watch it dammit and get an uncut copy if possible.