‘Possessor’ Horrifies and Amazes (FILM REVIEW)

  

Rating: A-

Surrounding the release of Possessor, the latest and best film from Brandon “The Son of David” Cronenberg, is a tale of two hypes. The first hype, into which distributor Neon is leaning, is that the film is so brutal and violent that it transcends almost anything you’ve ever seen before. Neon is, in fact, releasing Possessor as Possessor Uncut, responding to fears from Sundance audiences that the film couldn’t see a traditional release. The second hype is that the film is very, very good. Only one of these is true.

Fortunately, it’s the latter. While I’d never try to downplay the violence of the film—it is, in fact, very violent and, occasionally, quite brutal—the violence portrayed in the film is nothing we haven’t seen before. It is not a film you’d want to watch with young children or your grandparents, true enough. And anyone who had a difficult time with the infamous “The Mountain and the Viper” episode of Game of Thrones might wanna sit this one out. That said, if you watched Game of Thrones then Possessor isn’t particularly any more violent.

What it is, however, is a stunningly beautiful and fascinating meditation on the nature of self and privacy in the modern age. Cronenberg, who is very much working within his father’s body horror oeuvre, has created a chilling, Phillip K. Dickian story horror that is absolutely resonant with today’s fears about technological overreach. The horror is as much psychological as it is body, establishing Cronenberg as a filmmaker who is well out of the shadow of his father.

Possessor takes us into a world where technology allows people to hijack another’s brain. We follow Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an employee of a secretive company who uses this ability to commit covert assassinations to those willing to pay the price. Vos is the best of the best and her contributions to the company are invaluable. Her latest assignment puts her in the mind of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the future son-in-law of the CEO of a sprawling technological empire (Sean Bean) who becomes the company’s latest target. However, Vos and the company get more than they bargained for as Tate begins to fight back for control of his body and mind.

While, to reiterate, the film is occasionally very violent, it’s the psychological elements of Possessor that are the most disturbing parts of the film. Cronenberg keeps his secrets close to the chest, allowing the psyche vs psyche aspects of Vos and Tate play out slowly as his mysterious world methodically reveals itself. While hints about the process’s affects on Vos are given early on, as Possessor takes us deeper and deeper into its twisted world we see how our current worries about technology begin to play into the film’s story.

Tate, who works for his future father in law, has a job where he is literally watching the world through webcams, making notes about the likes and desires of his father’s clients. It’s not hard to see this as an evolution of Google or Facebook’s current tracking algorithms which creep into our lives unsuspected. The algorithm’s control of our lives in the real world mirrors the questions Cronenberg brings up regarding control.

Who is control? Do we want what we want because it’s our desire or did the algorithm simply tell us to buy it? The longer Vos and Tate vie for control of Tate’s mind and body, the less certain we are about who’s desires are being met.

While obviously fantasy, like all good science fiction Possessor’s central themes can be related back to our world in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Cronenberg displays a mastery of both the genre and filmmaking and it’s difficult not to be enthralled by his depictions of modern life’s most pressing questions. Alternating between viscerally beautiful and horrific, Possessor is, if nothing else, one of the most unique films of 2020.

Even while the violence of the film is somewhat overhyped—again, it’s not that it’s not violent so much as it’s not any more violent than anything else—Cronenberg has really come into his own as a filmmaker and seems poised to make his mark on the world of genre film. Possessor is a well-balanced and beautifully made sci-fi-horror film that establishes the filmmaker as much more than his father’s son. While certainly not for everyone, fans of both body horror and psychological horror will be more than pleased by all that the film allows them to sink their teeth into.

Possessor is now playing in select theaters and drive-ins.

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