LFF 2020: Possessor – Review

Release Date – 27th November 2020, Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 43 minutes, Director – Brandon Cronenberg

Tasya (Andrea Riseborough) works for a group that inserts her consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting people, controlling them to assassinate rich targets, however one specific victim (Christopher Abbott) begins to fight back.

As many are likely to, and already have, point out; Possessor is a Cronenberg film through and through. Style has clearly been passed on with the tone and feel of this bloody sci-fi horror. And yet Brandon Cronenberg has his own distinct tone of lingering inflictions and internal battles of characters throughout this crimson-soaked feature – striking a tone that can possibly be best described as future-gothic.

Throughout we follow Tasya (Andrea Riseborough – who after 2018’s Mandy seems to enjoy being a part of the year’s maddest, bloodiest features), an assassin for an organisation who injects her consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting victims to kill wealthy figures, while the person it looks like did the killing turns the gun on themselves as Tasya is pulled to safety. This is all until one particular job starts to go wrong. Tasya is placed into the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a figure with too many stresses and worries to be able to be controlled by someone else. His mind begins to push Tasya aside, having consequences on her mind and body – stuck inside a machine that helps link her to Colin. She’s sent to kill the cruel industry-figurehead father (Sean Bean) of his fiancée, Ava (Tuppence Middleton).

Bean’s industry figurehead John Parse may just be the definition of the traditional sneering classic villain, just with a Brandon Cronenberg spin. He truly puts the filthy into filthy rich. Disapproving of the man his daughter is spending her time with, running workplaces that – assisted by the dark hues of Karim Hussain’s cinematography – are made to seem almost like conditions of uniform slavery. He’s a cruel and heartless figure, doing everything he can to bring Colin down and get him away from his daughter as quickly as possible – even if that does mean torment. Colin’s hatred for John is too strong to be controlled by Riseborough’s exasperated professional – who is initially reluctant to take this job on after struggling to turn the gun towards the end of a previous hit. With Tate taking control of his body throughout the film – various images of bodies and minds melting into each other take place as this happens – there are mental impacts on both central figures, examined throughout by Cronenberg as both minds become increasingly tired, not to mention scared and uncertain.

While death is a main target for the piece it certainly doesn’t fill the film. However, when it does come about Cronenberg certainly doesn’t hold back. He lingers and pushes into each brutal attack on the senses. Not only do your eyes fill with increasingly dark shades of crimson, your ears are filled with all kinds of crunches, snaps, high-pitched nerve breakings and screams of pain – not to mention your own yelps and gasps of fear and shock at what you see on-screen. All while the film ever quite touches on the idea of being sadistic, or taking any form of joy in itself from the painful sound and images of the relentless murders. It’s not quite there in those moments to be enjoyed, although the surroundings are certainly some form of other-worldly escape, although certainly not one you’d wish to exist in the real-world.

And this feeling comes from the delve into the mentality and mindsets of the two central characters. They are certainly imperfect, they know that and that tires them out; but because of the imperfections and hassle of the other person making them have to come to terms with their personal flaws. The constant battle throughout a large proportion of the 103 minute run-time has clear-set consequences – one or two are somewhat predictable; especially towards the latter stages of the piece – and you don’t quite know what type of ending Cronenberg is running towards. The pacing of the film certainly speeds up as he begins to sprint towards his conclusion yet the question that’s always in the air is is there actually a positive outcome here? It seems unlikely, you begin to feel that the only way the two personalities will be truly joint and untied is by both meeting a fate similar to Sam Lowry.

As Cronenberg travels along his rattling rails – the marks of many people who were clearly never untied from them splattered across it – his plan gradually becomes clearer. This is not a film simply there for gross-out shocks and blood-drenched cameras. This is a feud between two minds. Who is really in control of whose mind? To be cliché and use the film’s title; ‘Who is the real Possessor?’ And yet, the existential questions are never quite posed to the audience, and they never fully ask them throughout. They simply witness a dystopia of the mind as both Tasya and Colin battle for control, a somewhat shared goal, but for different aims – thus causing a civil war of sorts. There are interesting developments and ideas throughout the film, some clearly passed down, or rather influenced, from father to son.

The film travels across its path, never branching into sadism, but simply positioning the right elements for truly brutal sharp turns as the rage rises and energy declines for a pair who act as both the protagonists and antagonists – while Bean, in a number of instances, truly steals the show with his most brutal, just wait, of baddies. But, most of all, it’s simply a well made piece of sci-fi horror cinema that we rarely see nowadays. Perhaps an ode to Dad’s work, or a legacy continued. Either way, this modern spin is certainly something that if continued will lead to another strong, long-lasting name in the bloodiest corner of cult cinema.

An interesting battle between two different minds, leading to pain and exasperation for multiple parties, this is something that while successfully painful in terms of its gore is a fairly well told story of an internal, mental struggle for mental power.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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