The Cronenberg family fingerprints are all over this one. Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature film Possessor boasts the sort of transgressive body horror his dad would be proud of. It also excels at a kind of lightning bolt mind horror that sees this superb sci-fi thriller grind its twin protagonists, and its audience, through a flashing, blinking mangle of shock and pain.
It begins unflinchingly, as a young woman stabs something with the appearance of a headphone jack into her own skull. She walks into a swanky looking party; the kind frequented, one assumes, by the worst type of shits: bankers, estate agents, Conservative party grandees. With precision, she drives the blade of a knife into the jowls of a slovenly-looking executive who expires in a deluge of blood. Before falling herself in a storm of police bullets, she instructs an unseen presence to “pull her out” and we get our first look at the person apparently pulling the strings of this gruesome murder.
Taysa (Andrea Riseborough) is a hitman in the employ of a company which uses her to eliminate high profile members of the competition. The method is as ingenious as it is unexplained. Through an implant in the brain of a person close to the target, Taysa can, via a VR sleeping pod that resembles a psychiatrist’s couch, carry out assassinations by controlling the unsuspecting avatar-patsy. Her trade apparently gives her employers an edge in the world of commerce, but it also leaves Taysa a disjointed, emotionally barren husk; a woman who relives the intimate details of her latest hit, even while being intimate with her estranged partner.
As she embarks on his next job, posing as Christopher Abbott’s data-mining drone in order to get close to corporate head honcho and father-in-law Sean Bean, things start to unravel.
Cronenberg’s movie boasts a flair for tackling cerebral ideas revolving around the concept of identity – theft of, lack of, loss of; but it also remains thrilling to the last and unfolds with heist-like charisma and a really gripping sense of events spiralling out of control. It’s anchored by a pair of excellent performances. Riseborough as a mentally blown-out woman with an ambiguous state of mind which keeps her character dangerous and Abbott, who actually gets to show his range with two roles: that of the put-upon stooge whose mind is being invaded and as Riseborough’s assassin within the avatar.
It’s worth noting that it is an astonishingly violent watch, too. Hypnotic moments of acid trip body horror are there, but it’s the scant but memorable explosions of grim, unglamorous murder that leave you rattled. It’s shocking and alarming, but it’s also an encouraging sign of an artist really beginning to hit form.
Horror, Sci-Fi | Canada, 2020 | 18 | Digital Download | 27th November (UK) | Signature Entertainment | Dir.Brandon Cronenberg | Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton