it’s hard to know sometimes exactly what makes a horror film “visceral” but damned if Brandon Cronenberg’s isn’t trying to corner the market. Possessor is a story about the cut-throat world of corporate assassinations but it’s also an exploration into the nature of identity and how we grapple with the destruction of our sense of self. Featuring performances that call on it’s leads to deliver something incredibly unique, and editing that feels as much like brain-washing as it does entertainment, Possessor is a movie that plays with your mind the way a conductor plays an orchestra. And if all that sounds a little too high brow for ya, stick around to see some of the most stomach-turning practical effects of the last decade including an eye-opening stabbing, a super gnarly sequence with a fire poker, as well as someone literally (and metaphorically) wearing another person’s face.
Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg (Antiviral), Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Christopher Abbott (Piercing), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Annihilation), Sean Bean (The Lord of The Rings), and Tuppence Middleton (Sense8). Possessor is currently premiering in its uncut version, thanks to distributors Neon and Elevation Pictures, who want audiences to experience the full force of this macabre drug-trip of a film.
“Possessor is the biggest mindf*ck I’ve experienced in years.”
In Possessor Andrea Riseborough plays Vos, a corporate hired gun that using “possession technology’ to take control of strangers’ body & mind in order to carry out high-profile assassinations. Due to the immersive nature of her work and the increasing detachment she has been experiencing, she has become a danger to everyone around her. The personal nature of her crimes put the entire mission into jeopardy, and her obsessive interest with the destruction of her targets has made her as trustworthy around the dinner table as a vampire in a blood bank. In some respects she is like an addict, jonesing to be fixed into someone else’s psyche, but it isn’t an evil nature that drives her. It’s only when her mind is obliterated and reshuffled back into another person’s that she is able to make sense of who is and where she fits in the world. As bloody, and hallucinatory as Possessor is (at all times), it is a story of self discovery not unlike, say, Eat Pray Love- if Eat Pray Love were about playing with someone’s warm, sticky blood or infiltrating a multi-million dollar corporation while wearing another person’s skin.
What’s so great about a story like Possessor is a that it is perfect for critical analysis. It’s pure art in the sense that it has a very intended reaction but it can also act as a blank canvas for you to paint yourself into. Vos has the ability to experiment with all the darkest parts of her own mind while overtaking and manipulating others and, as a viewer, it’s not hard to copy+paste your own world into hers. Maybe you feel your own identity being overtaken by your personal or professional life. Maybe social media has turned your life into a performance, or maybe your mind and body disagree about who is the real you. Vos has made a living literally becoming other people, and it’s a role that’s become so familiar that she no longer feels comfortable in her own skin. Her life in the real world is something so foreign to her that she only feels alive when flirting with the physical and mental obliteration that occurs during her possessions; A complex mental struggle that would have been entirely lost if not for some remarkable cinematogrphy from Karim Hussain (Random Acts of Violence) and two truly incredible performances from Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott.
Riseborough and Abbott essentially share a performance as Colin, Vos’s most recent subject, who she has possessed in order to murder his girlfriend Ava (Tuppence Middleton) and her tech-giant CEO father John (Sean Bean). Colin proves to be a difficult vessel and their mental struggle for control brings about the most mind-bending and visually stunning sequences of the year. If Antiviral was Cronenberg’s foray into body horror than Possessor is his body destruction film, tearing apart everything that it means to be human from the inside-out. Yes, there are some wonderfully grotesque moments of what you would classically refer to as textbook Body Destruction, but it’s the destruction of Vos’ mind that takes the mainstage in this gruesome story.
Rather than watching someone fall apart piece by piece, we see Vos dissolve and disappear into a chaotic, cerebral nightmare. Riseborough and Abbott’s dueling performances as Colin deserve standing ovations and all the awards Hollywood is too scared to give to a movie with this much violence. You can see Riseborough in Abbot’s face when he wonders through his day like an alien, crash-landed onto earth and into another person’s soul. And the same is true for Abbott in Riseborough’s performance when we are inside Colin’s head, filtering his experiences through Vos like infused tea of human souls.
Possessor is the biggest mindf*ck I’ve experienced with film in years. It’s cuts deep in a way that I generally only experience in books, but in just two hours writer/director Brandon Cronenberg has plumbed the darkest depths of the human psyche. Delivering some of the most inventive sequences of the year (sorry, Tenet), Possessor is a visceral, soul-shattering experience that will linger in the recesses of your mind. It’s easily my front-runner for best movie of the year, while also securing a pretty guaranteed spot on the most disturbing movies of the year list.
After nearly 8 years of development and planning, Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. I’ve already seen Possessor twice and I’ll likely see twice more before the end of the year, even if I may do my best to keep something this vicious and cut-throat away from everyone close to me who might become worried about my obsession with something so deeply (but oh-so delightfully) unnerving.
“…a story of self discovery not unlike, say, Eat Pray Love- if Eat Pray Love were about playing with someone’s warm, sticky blood…”
Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, presented by Neon and Elevation Pictures in its uncut an original form, is now playing in select drive-ins and movie theatres. Be sure to listen to our interview with Brandon Cronenberg on the Nightmare on Film Street podcast and let us know what you thought of his mind-altering sophomore feature over on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!