Like his father David, Brandon Cronenberg has a knack for crafting unforgettable moments of violence and gore. Both Cronenbergs are able to create gruesome imagery that shocks you, but stops just before the point where it becomes too much to handle. Possessor is more than that though; it makes the unaltered human form and a fractured psyche just as terrifying as any physical brutality. It’s an exercise in discomfort and fear, and one of an extraordinarily high caliber.
Possessor follows Andrea Riseborough’s Tasya Vos, an assassin who uses a machine to hijack the consciousnesses of others in order to get close to her target, who’s struggling while inhabiting her newest possessee, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot). It’s a brilliant premise that’s used in conjunction with two outstanding performances, a haunting, ethereal score, and bizarre visuals to become something greater than the sum of its parts.
Riseborough is captivating, giving us so much insight into the unstable mindset of Vos, who after so many jobs is the literal embodiment of someone who’s uncomfortable in their own skin. Abbot is equally incredible, portraying a disguised Vos who is trying to keep up appearances while also adapting to “being” Tate and pretending her mind isn’t being affected from all of the possessions she’s engaged in. Tuppence Middleton and Jennifer Jason Leigh are great in their support roles as Tate’s fiance and Vos’ handler respectively, and Sean Bean is “enjoyable” as Tate’s condescending, soon-to-be father in law, but it’s Riseborough and Abbot’s low-key, nuanced performances that elevate Possessor into something far more impressive. The lead actors, along with a steadily distributed supply of disturbing visuals, draw you in, keeping you completely entranced and uneasy in between the moments where the movie explodes into sequences of unflinching gore and terror.
And each of those “explosions” is genuinely frightening. The tone shifts from “calm, but something’s not quite right” to “HOLY SHIT” at the drop of a hat, and these sequences often caught me off guard despite the obvious build-up beforehand. When it’s firing on all cylinders, Possessor surprises, scares, and disorients you all at the same time.
There are some themes and ideas that aren’t explored to their fullest, but overall I have no issue with that. The pacing is the film’s weakest element, and odds are that additional scenes would’ve bogged it down even further. All in all, I feel like Possessor says most of what it wants to, and also delivers an experience that is equally unique and memorable.