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Moviegoer: Possessor

Identity theft has gruesome consequences in this gripping thriller

By Diana Beechener

A young woman forces a wire into her skull, turning a dial on an apparatus until her teeth are bared in a rictus grin. Moments later, she goes to work, where she drives a steak knife into the throat of a wealthy attorney over and over until nothing but a spray of viscera is left. As the police arrive, she looks confused as to why she’s holding a weapon. 

She should be confused; she didn’t kill anyone. 

The young woman is the latest victim of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough: The Grudge), a corporate assassin who kills her targets by possessing a seemingly random person, forcing them to commit a horrific crime, and then either convincing her host to commit suicide or leaving them to the police. It’s a grisly occupation, but Tasya thrives in it. She studies her hosts for days before possessing them, learning mannerisms and little turns of phrase. Her goal is to seamlessly blend into their lives, kill her mark, and flee.

Tasya is good at her job. But she’s also become enamored with the violence. Instead of using company provided guns, she’s started going for visceral kills – using her hands and reveling in the blood. Her handler finds it curious, but doesn’t want to question her most effective assassin. Tasya has also noticed the change, however. Her newfound brutality convincing her to leave her family because she fears that she might hurt them. 

With each possession, a little more of her humanity bleeds from her and normal things, like feelings and relationships become hollower. Before she sees her son, she stands outside his house and practicing expressions of love and enthusiasm. Unless she’s becoming someone, Tasya is a walking ghost. She loves entering the lives of others and the freedom that comes with it. 

Her latest assignment is to take over Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott: Black Bear) and force him to kill his fiancé and soon-to-be father-in-law. But Tasya has trouble with her assignment. Colin’s consciousness begins to blur with her own. Can Tasya take over Colin? Or will he find a way into her mind? 

Bloody, tense, and stunning to look at, Possessor is a fascinating and primal examination of what makes us unique and how each of us interact with our concepts of who we are. This is the gritty little cousin of films like Ex Machina and Freaky Friday. Writer/Director Brandon Cronenberg (Antiviral) creates a film that is beautiful in its brutality. Cronenberg is the son of Body Horror auteur David, and the need to craft ghastly scenes of blood and guts apparently runs in the family. Cronenberg uses Tasya’s fascination with violence and blood to symbolize the slippery grip she has on her own humanity. This leads to some scenes that are jaw dropping in their disturbing images. 

Unfortunately, Possessor is a film about concepts more than about story. Cronenberg also inherited this filmmaking trait from his famous father. This is a movie interested in spectacular visuals, and challenging ideas, but don’t look too deeply for plotting or character development. For the most part the strong images crafted by Cronenberg outweigh his light script work, giving you plenty of gray areas to discuss after you watch the film. 

Two brilliant performances from Riseborough and Abbott help carry Possessor over the line from visual experiment to cogent sci-fi thriller. As Tasya, Riseborough is a shell of a person. You can see the fissures cracking her façade as she attempts to inhabit her own body. Abbott does an excellent job of subtly shifting his performance to indicate whether Tasya or Colin is currently inhabiting his body. It’s a tricky thing to do without becoming hammy, and Abbott makes it look easy. 

If you’re a fan of body horror or high concept sci-fi films, Possessor is a brilliant rental for an evening of highbrow gross out fun. 

Possessor is available for rental on Prime or Video on Demand for $6. 

Good Sci-Fi * R * 103 mins.