Film number 10 on my Festival watch list is one of the horrors I have been eagerly awaiting this year since its premiere at Sundance. Possessor is the latest ultraviolent offering written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Following Tasya Vos, an assassin who works by controlling the bodies of a pawn so her real identity is kept secret. From the opening, we see her grasp of control slip and this proves true in her new assignment when the man she takes over begins to fight back. As son of esteemed director David Cronenberg, it’s clear that there is a familial trait for creating films filled with explicit gore and pushing the envelope as to how far the human psyche can go. However, to dismiss Brandon Cronenberg as a copy of his father would be a huge mistake. There is an emphasis on the human condition that is done in such an interesting way that I haven’t seen before. There are so many layers to uncover in this film and so much going on that it can be overwhelming but in the best way possible. It’s done intentionally to reflect Tasya’s overbearing mind.
Cronenberg’s writing perfectly encapsulates Tasya’s experience and puts that into his script. The film’s pacing is so fast and sharp that you don’t even realise that it is a 100 minute film. It is absolutely non-stop, taking no time for a breather and Tasya doesn’t have time to rest during her assignment. The opening scene in which Tasya has taken control over a young woman called Holly and completes a mission is gripping and jaw-dropping. From the offset, it is clear that Cronenberg isn’t afraid of bringing an abundance of violence and gore but in a way that cleverly sets up the story and makes the audience ask questions, wanting to know more.
Andrea Riseborough has been delivering astonishing performances for years and her turn in the 2018 film Mandy was a standout in horror that year. It was only natural that she is finally given a leading role. Her performance as Tasya Vos is deeply complex. Tasya continues to work as an assassin despite her clear mental fragility and her slip on control and reality. It’s as though she thinks working will eventually rid her of the pain but her latest assignment proves more than difficult. It’s exciting to see Riseborough in a film like this that is so daring and exciting. Even though it is Christopher Abbott acting as Colin, Riseborough’s performance is so emotive and effective that we feel her presence through the film. This of course is also due to Abbott’s stellar performance as Colin, the man Tasya has been tasked with possessing. Abbott’s performance is vulnerable as he has to play Colin as Tasya inside of Colin’s head and then act out the conflict the two of them have. This is by no means an easy feat and he performs the hell of this role. As Vasya’s grasp on control loosens and turns to Colin’s favour, he becomes more violent and unpredictable to the point where he doesn’t know what he is doing anymore.
There are brilliant support turns particularly from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Bean as Tasya’s boss, Girder and assassin target, John Parse, respectively. Leigh’s performance is subtly fantastic as her concern for Tasya slowly comes to light. She clearly feels a lot for Tasya but is so determined for her to complete the job. Always veering Tasya on the path on control, Girder refuses to lose faith in her employee and Leigh portrays this conflict she has with Tasya’s mind brilliantly. On the other hand, Bean is great as a semi-villainous businessman. Void of dignity and full of fake sentiment, John Parse is a man who is all about appearances. This is something Sean Bean doesn’t play often as he tends to veer towards likeable characters and he pulls this off with a really strong performance. He isn’t in the film for a long time but when he is he immediately draws the audience in with his unpredictability.
The music in Possessor is fantastic bringing aspects of techno sounds to elevate the sci-fi qualities of the film. Composed by Jim Williams, who has done a fair share of horror films, it appears to be a perfect match with Cronenberg and hits the tone of the film perfectly. The way the music is edited to reflect Tasya’s conflict as it overlaps and particularly the piece when she possesses Colin’s body is among the best score tracks I have heard this year. A brilliant and innovative soundtrack that is just as unpredictable and exciting as the film.
Brandon Cronenberg has proven himself to be a stellar writer and director with this film. Providing a brilliant mix of sci-fi and horror, Possessor keeps you on your toes with its many twists and turns as it brims with thrills throughout. It’s a visceral experience that will linger with you long after watching it. A brilliant addition to the best horrors of the 21st century so far. It’s very exciting to see what Cronenberg has up his sleeve next.
Possessor is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 16th October and is out in the United Kingdom on the 27th November 2020.