A high-concept tale of futuristic assassins and brain implantation might sound slick and flashy, though it need not be. Possessor is that very movie, but it is personal and emotional, and questions the boundaries of self, all while sitting in a nest of speculation.
The film begins with an assassination. However, unlike your run of the mill guy in a suit with a silencer, or a geared-up sniper, this is done by a woman in a tracksuit who belongs exactly where she is. Soon after the violent deed is done, the woman pleads, “Pull me out!” while struggling to kill herself. The panic is jarring and her behavior perplexing, but Possessor wants it that way.
This all takes place in a world where brain implants make it possible for someone to completely take over someone else’s body. The science is imperfect, and it has been corrupted for malicious purposes. These assassins inhabit the body of someone close to the target, and then take their handsome pay home after the killing is done.
In this scenario Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is the skilled assassin, but she may be coming to the end of the line. She is confident, but fragile. As her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) does her post-hit interview, it is clear that while Vos is of sound mind, there is a struggle to keep all of her wits about her. The implantation and transmission process is risky and limited, and she is pushing herself far too hard. Girder is professional but kind, and has no interest in burning out her business’s greatest asset. Vos takes a short break to see her estranged husband and son, but then is back for another job.
Colin (Christopher Abbott) is the next body for Vos to jump into for a kill. As with all “I was one week away from retirement” dramas, not everything goes as planned. However, in the world of Possessor, the ways that things can go wrong stretches far beyond our current reality.
It would be a disservice to an artful, soulful film to give the impression that it relies heavily on its plot. While there is an incredibly strong dose of world creation and sci-fi dreaming here, that is just the framework around which the visual artistry and aural inventions are draped. As Vos travels in and out of bodies, the transition is projected on Riseborough’s face. Not represented literally mind you, but using her skin and the frame of the film as a canvas to create emotions through light and shapes. Even with all of the high-concept science in the film, it feels like an intimate exploration of what it would feel like to be in someone else’s skin, and more terrifyingly, leave your own.
Riseborough deserves all of the accolades for playing a woman who is losing control and being torn apart. She is woefully under appreciated as one of the greatest working actresses today and we get to see exactly why she deserves that praise here. Abbott, not to be out-acted, matches her by delivering the transformative physicality of a man who is no longer himself. His sense of self ebbs and flows in nearly every moment he is on screen and this man sells it for each of those seconds.
This tension between self and other, science and emotion, control and loss is what is at the bloody heart of Possessor. There are no easy ways to look at this world with all of its easy access to pain and disruption. But it is in this examination that we get to see how close it is to our own, and how close we are all to teetering out of our own skin at any given moment.
In Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg delivers one of the most unsettling and contemplative horror films of the year. One of the rare gems worthy of looking at in these surreal times.