Join Soundtrack Stream to Research the article “Possessor review – Brandon Cronenberg’s terrifying sci-fi horror freak-out | Horror films”
With her recent appearance in Panos Cosmatos’s sepulchral horror Mandy opposite a baying, gurning Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough became the smartest sort of contemporary scream-queen specialist. Now her face looms redly out of this unspeakable nightmare of the near future, a mask of fear and blood. Possessor is the highly unsettling new picture from 40-year-old Canadian film-maker Brandon Cronenberg, and it shows the influences of his father David’s early work, particularly the cranium-splitting revulsion of Scanners. It’s a thoroughly macabre satire of surveillance, corporate management, paranoia and power, with hints of Coppola’s The Conversation and Nolan’s Inception. There were, incidentally, moments when I even heretically wondered if Possessor had a bit more dramatic life and forward movement than Inception.
Possessor is, above all, an ultra-violent sci-fi-horror freak-out that will probably have you hiding your face in your hands. (That’s what I did.) Almost the very first shot is of someone inserting a clinical needle deep into their own scalp. But the gore has to be seen in the context of a strangely ingenious and interestingly thought-through story that has the most outrageous and disturbing final twist imaginable.
The setting is a city in the mid-21st century – Toronto, evidently – where a top-secret corporation run by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) offers assassination by proxy. Using occult mind-invasion technology, they can kidnap and drug a likely person who is close to the target, connect their brain to the killer’s in the back of a white van, thus introducing the killer’s consciousness into this person’s now zombified body. The murderer controls it remotely for 48 hours like a robot or an avatar in a computer game, steering this animated dummy up to the victim, close enough for a stab or a shot.
Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, the corporation’s top killer, so good that Girder is taking an intense interest in her future and grooming Tasya for ultimate control. But Tasya’s work is destroying her family life: she is semi-estranged from her husband and young son and starting to behave erratically while in “possession” of a cipher-killer. Things get out of control when she is asked to invade the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a former coke dealer, to kill his elegant fiancee Ava (Tuppence Middleton) and his future father-in-law John Parse (Sean Bean), leaving the client, another family member, in control of the lucrative business.
The point is that Parse is a tech baron specialising in data mining, and there is something about this murder-at-one-remove setup that makes the businesses of Girder and Parse a good fit. Poor, put-upon Colin has been given a job by the arrogant John; he is one of the many low-paid workers who spy on people via the little cameras in their laptops. (This movie may well increase the numbers of people taping these up.) They size up their decor, lifestyle and consumer wants. There are indications that Colin is already disaffected and alienated and he is “leaking” into Tasya’s mind while she is inside him, merging with Tasya’s own terrified sense of estrangement and family breakdown.
Getting inside people’s heads is the holy grail of modern marketing. The old-fashioned concept of advertising might once have been about presenting customers with a billboard bearing a tempting choice, or even executing subliminal nudges in the direction of a certain product. Now, data research is about taking up space in the customer’s consciousness, directing and coercing their attention like a novelist or a film-maker. This is what Tasya does, but it’s also what Girder does. She is the corporate manager; she takes an interest in Tasya behaving as she would wish her to behave. Possessor can be read as a queasy allegory of delegation, making people act at all times in larger corporate interests while preserving the illusion of choice.
Cronenberg takes possession of his strange, created world: subdued, sleek, forever seen in darkness or an eerie twilight, and Girder speaks in her own tech argot, smoothly warning Tasya of “minor artefacting” and “sync loss” when she appears to be losing her grip. This is a film to knock you seriously off balance.
• Possessor is available on digital platforms from 27 November.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Possessor review – Brandon Cronenberg’s terrifying sci-fi horror freak-out | Horror films