Brandon Cronenberg’s new sci-fi gore thriller “Possessor” is magnificent. Released back in January at Sundance, the film is jam-packed with innovative visuals and eloquently conveyed themes, making the violent and occasionally horrifying film one of the best movies of 2020.
The film follows the story of Tasya Vos, an elite assassin played by Andrea Riseborogh who uses special technology to temporarily transport her consciousness into a host body that she then uses to assassinate her targets. When the ruthless killer starts to lose her edge due to the reappearance of her ex-husband and son in her life, she’s forced into a brutal battle for control within a host’s mind.
The concept of transporting one’s consciousness into someone else’s body isn’t unique, but the way it’s used in this film to bring out and develop certain aspects of the characters makes it feel that way. Like all good sci-fi, this film uses its concept not only to help build a world, but to examine its characters as well.
The second feature film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary director David Cronenberg, “Possessor” continues David’s tradition of not shying away from gore. Appropriately gruesome and atmospheric, the film contains some brilliant and immersive cinematography. The film does get violent and doesn’t flinch away from brutality, but it’s not pointlessly vulgar. Everything that appears on screen serves to develop the characters, the world or the themes. The new director has mastered the visual language of film and found his voice within the bloody chaos intrinsic to this story.
Beyond the cinematography, the acting is similarly excellent, with great performances from stars Riseborogh and Christopher Abbott, as well as supporting cast members Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Bean.
The most impressive parts of “Possessor,” however, are its thematic messages and symbols. The film is full to the brim with fascinating statements and interesting commentary. Set in a world seemingly overrun by massive corporations and a casual disregard for human life, the story serves as a compelling illustration of the conflicting nature of family and corporate life. The technology in Cronenberg’s world seems to mutilate and disfigure humanity more than help it. Furthermore, Vos’ intricate character development throughout the film makes it clear that, while the act of being someone else allows her to perform atrocities without external consequences, it’s only when she feels out of control that she allows herself to do the thing she’s always wanted to do most. It’s a profound and horrifying message that the film conveys with such a punch. All the plot and character development builds up to that final message and moment so perfectly as to make this film a masterwork.
All things considered, “Possessor” is a phenomenal masterpiece. The film isn’t always easy to watch, but never gets too out of hand and never gets gruesome without reason. The editing is excellent, the visuals spectacular, the acting stellar and the concept feels somehow unique even despite its familiarity. But most impressive are the story, character development and themes. One of the best things to come out of 2020, “Possessor” is a film that should be seen by all.