Possessor: You Can Have My Everything, by David Bax
There’s no overlooking the surname. Director Brandon Cronenberg is indeed the son of David Cronenberg and, in his new film Possessor, he wastes no time drawing from the same well of body horror as his father. In the movie’s first scene, we watch as a woman locates a part between her braids and then slowly inserts a thin metal rod into her own scalp, cranium and brain. There are plenty more such delights ahead but Cronenberg the younger aims to set himself apart. To be honest, he mostly just succeeds in proving himself more juvenile. David tells us ultimately humanistic stories about people suffering physically as well as psychologically while, in Brandon’s more cheaply nihilistic vision, the world itself is a place built for suffering and not much else. And yet the often rapturously macabre filmmaking talent on display in Possessor is undeniable.
Andrea Riseborough stars as the wonderfully named Tasya Vos, an assassin who plies her trade–along with the help of her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh)–by beaming her consciousness into other people by way of brain implants, operating them like murderous puppets and then tying up loose ends by forcing them to commit suicide just before she reawakens in Girder’s sleek secret lab. Tasya’s newest assignment involves targeting the CEO of a massive tech company (Sean Bean) by taking over the body of one of its low-level employees, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott).
Neon is releasing the film under the full title Possessor Uncut, a clear sign that they’re aware of its illicit cult potential. The gruesome violence, indulgent gore and even the dark comedy of discomfort that comes from watching a data entry clerk put himself in position to murder his boss using the skills of a professional killer are all sure to appeal to the midnight movie crowd.
But there’s plenty of the arthouse, too, in Cronenberg’s use of long, quiet, whispery takes and impressionistic montages of terror. He approaches the psychedelic when he bathes rooms in deep, monochromatic colored light. And he evokes coiled paranoia in his use of shallow focus, suggesting that incomprehensible danger lurks just beyond arm’s reach at every moment.
It’s fun to imagine that, from the point of view of Riseborough and Abbott, all of this emotional and mental turmoil is allegory for the scary and vulnerable task of acting. Before taking over Tate’s mind and body, Tasya studies his way of speaking like an actor memorizing dialogue. And, as the unwilling participant, Abbott often gives Tate the appearance of someone who’s forgotten his lines in the middle of a scene.
That’s certainly a richer vein than the movie’s worn out corporate commentary. But Possessor is at its most deeply affecting as a depiction of a person who has a distrustful relationship with reality. It’s like a moodier, bloodier and mercifully less detail-oriented Inception. Tasya’s disassociation–expressed in increasingly violent ways–begins at home, with her inability to reckon with herself. If depression really is anger turned inward, as some say, Possessor illustrates the equation in reverse.