Friday, November 27, 2020


Call Possessor a sci-fi thriller and a gory horror movie. It’s a queasy dissociative episode, or a woozy nightmare of mental slippage and extreme violence. You could also approach it as a cautionary tale about letting a gig economy subcontractor job swallow you whole. Here’s the sophomore feature effort from Brandon Cronenberg, whose work will surely be compared to his father David’s oeuvre, what with its cringing, squishy attention to fragile bodies in use and abuse. (One wonders what it’s like growing up with a last name that has become synonymous with body horror. Was a cheery rom-com ever in the cards?) In its steely gaze and slippery hallucinations — bodies melting and reconstituting like wax figures, faces worn over faces like slightly oversized nearly-lifelike rubber masks, double-exposure double-takes layered over mirrors — it recalls those earlier films, true, but also feels of a piece with the twisty and twisted, yet studiously dispassionate, works of Alex Garland, and not only because it features a supporting turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh in a matter-of-fact scientist role not unlike her role in Annihilation. It has that same ice cold digital surface building to spasms of disturbing knife-twisting, literal and abstract. 

This film slithers in on gliding shots that get pinned down like butterflies under glass as it is perched precariously on the border between sex and violence (an early sequence cross-cuts from a shot of lovemaking to one of a knife slipping into flesh), and between maintaining one’s identity and forging a new one. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a near-future hitman who is contracted by a high-tech company that’ll inject her consciousness into an unsuspecting victim who will be near the target. Maybe it’s a waitress. Or a friend of a relative. Whoever it is will carry out the murder, after which their body’s hijacker will unplug from their brainstem by blasting her way out the back of the skull with a pistol packed on her person. It’s gnarly, nasty stuff, and leads to a situation where the frazzled professional killer’s latest host (Christopher Abbot) might just not go quietly. The movie moves slowly, patiently twisting the knife and finding ever-gnarlier implications to explore. The violence can only be described as prone to geysers, and is often disturbingly clinical. Even with fair warning, I was still surprised to find myself squirming in my seat away from the screen at its most literally eye-popping moments. But even more disturbing is its attention to the ways in which its characters are totally lost in webs of psychic surveillance from tech companies both subterranean (like the killers) and legit (their latest target is a CEO (Sean Bean — and isn’t there a fun meta layer to casting him as a man whose impending potential death drives a plot?) whose devices snoop on people’s private moments to better know their brands). Its central figure is totally lost in her job, losing focus, and maybe her mind, in the violence she does to others lives, and the blowback that rattles hers. It’s a gooey, messy business in a carefully controlled film.

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