Sci-fi movie disturbing, mesmerizing
November 4, 2020
It’s been some time since his latest effort, 2014’s disappointing Maps to the Stars, but luckily, David’s son Brandon has seemingly followed closely in his father’s footsteps.
Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature, Possessor, is a sci-fi horror hybrid that does indeed bear the mark of predecessors like Scanners and The Fly. But this film establishes a contemplative pace and existential disposition that deepens its mesmeric power. It’s a brutal and uncompromising vision that may not be the best entry point for newcomers to the genre but should thoroughly please those who revel in the creatively horrifying.
We meet Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) during a normal day of her thoroughly abnormal profession: she’s an assassin, of sorts, who uses brain implant technology to place her consciousness into the bodies of unwitting bystanders. On the heels of another vicious job, Tasya’s handler (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fills her in on their new target: Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a young programmer who uses VR to unethically mine data for a powerful tech company. The head of said corporation, John Parse (Sean Bean), is the father of Colin’s girlfriend Ava (Tuppence Middleton), which makes Colin a sensible mark to take John out of the picture on behalf of Vos’s client. The normally unflappable Vos begins to falter in her approach as Colin resists the body-mind control process and their psyches begin to battle one another for dominance.
With firm control over his story and its themes, Cronenberg investigates the terrifying prospect of losing control of oneself with arresting imagery and ingenious personifications of physiological phenomena. He marries the illusory concept of invading someone else’s mind and body like a parasite with the visceral tactility of the wretched instruments that it takes to make such an infiltration possible. Early on, we see Tasya “calibrating” her brainwaves with what looks like a portable transistor radio and the machine that allows her to enter her subject’s brain is connected through what appear to be standard audio cables. In the wrong hands, these prop design choices could seem foolish and archaic. But instead they demonstrate Cronenberg’s dedication to an inventive cyberpunk-inspired aesthetic that, ironically, moves the genre forward.
At times, Possessor resembles an arthouse take on Inception, as it also involves ousting a CEO at the behest of a client through metaphysically manipulated means, but you don’t even need to get past the opening scene to see where it diverges violently.
Like his father, Conenberg has little compunction about making his viewers squeamish in the pursuit of ferociously virtuosic violence. But also like David, Brandon argues for the savagery on-screen as a vehicle to depict the dark intangibles of human nature in ways that this breed of science fiction can do better than any other genre.
Behind the camera, cinematographer Karim Hussain fixates on unsettling shots like palms rippling under an air hand dryer and bathes the frame in stark blues and oranges to promote a constant sense of disorientation and unreality.
The always captivating Andrea Riseborough is outstanding as a woman whose crumbling sense of reality has left her emotionally bereft from those with whom she’s meant to be closest. In what could be another Christopher Nolan callback, one scene depicts Tasya as she’s asked to grapple with various mementos from her past and explain their significance to her handler. Riseborough’s expressions are flawless in these moments, as she struggles valiantly to reorient herself while suggesting that she may not even care to do so.
Christopher Abbott is also excellent in a role that calls for him to primarily act as if he’s not actually in control of his body, which I imagine is even more challenging than it seems.
Disturbing yet enriching, Possessor is a shocking reflection on the fleeting nature of identity and the confounding complexities of consciousness.
New movies this weekend
Available to rent digitally is The Informer, a crime thriller starring Joel Kinnaman and Rosamund Pike about an undercover ex-convict who becomes incarcerated again in order to infiltrate a mob at a maximum security prison.
Also available to watch on demand is The Dark and the Wicked, a horror film starring Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. about a patriarch farmer whose growing illness manifests waking nightmares for the members of his family.
Another digital release is Triggered, a mystery movie starring Reine Swart and Liesl Ahlers about nine campers who wake up with suicide bombs strapped to their chests with varying times on their countdown clocks.