The smartest scary movie of the year

Dir: Brandon Cronenberg, starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott. 103 mins, Certificate 18.

Stylish, brutal, and genuinely unnerving, Possessor feels like a worthy heir to the name Cronenberg. Made by David’s son Brandon on his second outing as director, this unpredictable and occasionally disgusting explosion of imaginative sci-fi is one of 2020’s most unforgettable viewing experiences. 

Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya, an assassin working for a mysterious conglomerate whose chosen method is a technology which allows her to burrow into other people’s bodies and minds, using them as vessels to complete her hits. Her target is a mogul, whose son-in-law, played by a brooding Christopher Abbott, presents an ideal target for her to take over. Tasya, though, is a novice working with a new and frightening innovation, and the fissures of her own psychosis begin to work their way through her host. 

When both begin to invade one another’s brains and bodies, there is some confusion, but the premise is so darkly compelling that it is difficult to look away. 

Tasya is also shown in her own body, being stringently psychologically tested to be sure she has maintained her own consciousness and sense of self – but she looks hauntingly empty and lacking in empathy, even when spending time with her own husband and son. Riseborough is excellent here, telegraphing the blankness of someone searching for her own humanity again after melding into other people’s repeatedly, with the goal of doing abject harm.

Abbott, too, convincingly fulfils a difficult role having to play not only his own character but Tasya’s when she is trapped inside of him. 

From its look to its performances, there is something intentionally ‘off’ about the movie, giving an underlying sense of the sinister which bleeds into everything (Photo: Signature Entertainment)

Cronenberg imbues the film with a dissonant, eerie score by Jim Williams (who also worked on Ben Wheatley’s Kill List) and a sleekly built production design that seems both familiar and slightly skewed. From its look to its performances, there is something intentionally “off” about the movie, giving an underlying sense of the sinister which bleeds – sometimes literally – into everything. This is, of course, fitting for a scenario in which the personalities of your nearest and dearest might be being invaded without the outside world ever knowing. 

Possessor does what good science fiction and horror are meant to do, using genre in an allegorical sense without being tripped up by its own cleverness. Cronenberg uses fiction to speculate on murky possibilities of the here and now, offering ambiguities around technology and control that reflect on the mega-power of contemporary tech companies. With its grisly images of physical transference and its sharp, if deeply fatalistic, view of human independence, Possessor may be the smartest scary movie of the year. 

Available to stream on digital platforms

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