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Review: Possessor (2020)

Possessor (2020)

Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg

Premise: A company uses brain implant technology to take over people’s bodies and use them to commit contract killings. Their primary assassin (Andrea Riseborough) has trouble reengaging with her real life while she takes on a high profile contract.

What Works: Possessor is a mix of science fiction and body horror. The two elements fit together in a story about the way human beings are desensitized and how that deadening feeling impacts the rest of our lives. The film centers upon Tasya, played by Andrea Riseborough, a proficient contract killer who uses a brain implant to take control of other people’s bodies and use them to assassinate her targets. The process requires Tasya to inhabit the host’s mind and body for a long time, keeping Tasya away from her family for extended periods. The most interesting aspect of Possessor is the effect of Tasya’s work on her emotional wellbeing; she struggles to stay invested in a domestic life that no longer holds her interest. While on her new assignment, Tasya’s control of her host is unsteady and their consciousness bleeds together. Possessor visualizes this with some striking images. Some parts of the movie are surreal as the filmmakers visualize abstractions like consciousness and identity. At other times it is quite visceral and Possessor includes some extremely gory special effects. This is done with purpose; Possessor is about the way extreme experiences can psychologically impact viewers whether those experiences are real or simulated. The gore conveys the squishiness of corporal reality which contrasts with the surreal aspects of the film. The ideas of Possessor have all sorts of implications and the filmmakers smartly connect the concept with other aspects of contemporary life, namely the intrusion of technology into our homes and bodies.

What Doesn’t: Possessor retreads a familiar sci-fi theme—the mind and body problem—which we’ve seen in other movies such as The Ghost in the Shell and eXistenZ and The Lawnmower Man and Inception. Possessor does the concept well enough but it does not add much to it. The film leaves the audience, especially well watched sci-fi viewers, with the impression we’ve seen most of this before. Possessor is also an emotionally cold experience. That coldness is part of the point so it’s unfair to criticize the movie for that but some viewers are going to struggle with Possessor’s remoteness. Most mainstream films seduce the viewer into going along with the story but Possessor requires the audience to come to it and actively engage with what the film is trying to say. 

DVD extras: There are two versions of Possessor: the 103 minute R-rated cut and the 104 minute unrated cut. The disc release of the unrated version includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Possessor reiterates a familiar sci-fi scenario and combines it with a daring visual style. This is an unpleasant movie in some ways but it’s also smart and what the film has to say about technology has some haunting implications. 

Episode: #837 (January 31, 2021)