Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature film, is a nasty little affair. You will be immediately sucked into it after the opening scene of a woman dressed as cheerleader kills a man in the most grizzly way possible. If the fact that she wants to, but can’t, kill herself leaves you puzzled, stick around, all your questions will be answered. Maybe.
At the center of Possessor is a nameless corporation that specializes in a special kind of assassination. Their assassins possess people, mind and body, to kill targets. The employee of every month is Tasya Voy (Andrea Riseborough). Voy is sent to take over the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) who’s dating the daughter of a billionaire tech mogul. The plot is to kill them all, including Tate, and leave the son to inherit the company. At which time the nameless company swoops in to take over the company.
It sounds more convoluted than what it actually is, but it doesn’t matter. By the halfway mark off the movie you’re going to forget pretty much everything about an assassination plot. Your attention will be focused on Abbott’s performance as Tate. You’ll be sucked into the struggle between Tate and Voy for dominance of his body.
For much of Processor it’s the Christopher Abbott show. There’s something dangerous just below the surface of Abbott’s performances. You can see that danger as the bombardier Yossarian who is going mad in Catch-22 and the plague survivor who arouses too much suspicion in It Comes At Night. In those roles, and others, Abbot manages to keep that danger to a slow boil. In Possessor he lets it all out, the boiling danger erupts.
Possessor is about believability. If we don’t believe Abbott we won’t believe anything else that happens in the movie. Abbott carries the movie on his back. Although Andrea Riseborough’s Voy is as important of a character as Tate, she doesn’t occupy nearly as much screen time. It’s easy to forget that she’s even in the movie except for the brief moments when she talks to Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sort of handler. Just as you forget that Voy is a character in the movie she comes back as she fights Tate for control of his body.
Although Cronenberg isn’t making statements about identity or reality in Possessor, shades of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and The Wachowski’s The Matrix can’t be ignored. Voy plugs into a machine that enables her to enter the minds of her targets. The screaming dial tone of The Matrix is absent and there is no umbilical tethering Voy to her new surroundings, the machine she plugs into delivers the same results. Her reality is now the reality of the person she is possessing. Where does Tate go when Voy is in control?
His new reality is a place that is neither here nor there. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Free Fire) delivers a kaleidoscope of lights, flashing images as two minds become one, and bodies that melt only to reform. It’s the visual representation of the processes of taking over Colin’s mind. Later, we see the same effects only this time it’s Colin fighting to regain control of his mind and body.
CORPORATIONS EAT PEOPLE
If Possessor is saying anything it’s that corporations are evil. It’s apparent from the start that Voy is damaged. She forgets things that she shouldn’t forget. The fact that Tate can take his body back from a seasoned professional like Voy speaks to how damaged her mind has become. There’s no indication that Voy even remembers that her husband and child were killed to complete the mission. The tests Girder gives Voy after each mission are rigged. Voy looks at objects and tells Girder what they are and the significance of each. By the end of the movie we know Voy could say anything and Girder would tell Voy she was correct. Girder is never going to let her go.
CRONENBERG on CRONENBERG
Some detractors will point to the fact that Possessor bears more than a passing resemblance to the films of Brandon’s more famous father David Cronenberg. It would be disingenuous to ignore the similarities, but it would be more accurate to say Cronenberg took inspiration from another Cronenberg. In much the same way Nicolas Winding Refn channels Michael Mann and Yorgos Lanthimos brings out his inner Kubrick, Cronenberg is wearing his influence on his sleeve. It’s not a bad thing as the cerebral nature of a Cronenberg movie always makes things more interesting and Possessor is a very interesting movie.