By Michael Kalafatis
Possessor starts with a woman who walks into a party, brutally stabs an attorney and then is killed by the police. Then a woman named Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up from a machine that help her to implant her consciousness to another person’s body so she can carry her objective, which is a contract assassination. After each successful assassination there is always a debriefing, where she is interviewed by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to find out if Vos has removed all traces of the personality she was possessing and still retains her own memories. Her next mission is a man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), from the moment her consciousness is implanted Vos unstable nature come to the foreground, she starts to lose control of Colin’s body and their memories starts to blend. This situation increases Vos’ volatile personality thus carnage ensues in surprising abundance.
Possessor’s thematic preoccupation is similar with Nolan’s Inception but rather than implanting an idea it implants a consciousness that takes fully control for a few days, thus making the job simpler and more methodical but it is also more dangerous to the possessor who starts to lose his/her own personality while living in other person’s body and life. These ramifications Brandon Cronenberg wants to explore, he put particular emphasis to the blurring of identities, even though Vos occupies a male character she still gets lost in a haze of memories and nightmarish images evoked both by her and Colin.
Cronenberg’s film has an unrelenting and brutal way of showing violence, it always happens in an explosive and sudden way and it is always very unexpected because from its plot you would not expect to see so much gore. I expected I would watch a science fiction film that probes into the meaning of one’s own identity and how easily it can be lost but I did not expect it to feature scenes that are directly influenced from slasher films and done so well.
The visual language of the films is very interesting as well, it starts with the use of muted colors and progressively becomes more surreal. Surrealism and body horror take central stage to convey Vos inability to control Colin and her own unstable mind that is losing its own identity.
Despite myriad moments of intense violence, the pacing of the narrative is very hypnotic and is accompanied by an eerie minimalistic soundtrack. These slow moments, almost meditative, makes the ensuing violence more effective and shocking. The scenes that feature abundance of blood, disfigured faces and bodies are effective because Cronenberg kept the use of special effect as minimal as possible, and has chosen instead to use prosthetic and practical effects. In the surreal scenes with the merging of two identities and other flashing and disturbing images Cronenberg used in camera effects with the help of Karim Hussain, the cinematographer of Possessor.
Even though Possessor is hybrid of different genres (science fiction, horror) it is also a drama about two characters Vos and Colin, who are the core of the film and the reason the films works. The outstanding performances by Andrea Riseborough (Vos) and Christopher Abbot (Colin) make the strange plot of the film more plausible and that’s always the most important part of any science fiction film and Cronenberg has created believable and three-dimensional characters who are faced with strange and outlandish situations.
From the opening moments of Possessor till the ending the films has unrelenting pace, scenes bathed in blood, surreal sequences, realistic character depiction and an unsettling minimalistic soundtrack. It is a film that will shock, scare and keep most viewers guessing till the credits roll.