Possessor (2020) - Film Review
Guest Reviewer - Horror Film Expert - Doug Rice
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
In the mid 1970′s, a young Canadian filmmaker named, David Cronenberg, exploded onto the horror/thriller scene. At the time, while titles like, Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, may not have been at the forefront of the movie mainstream, Cronenberg had started developing a style of filmmaking and storytelling that were totally his own. In the following decade, he had emerged as one of the premiere genre directors with a fervent, underground fan following. It didn’t take long for large studios to take notice. Recognizing his unique vision for these films, producers handed him the reigns on the Stephen King project, The Dead Zone, and the remake of, The Fly. With each film he met and exceeded expectations and despite only doing a dozen more films since then, Cronenberg, always maintained his own high bar with each and every feature he put out, becoming a true icon in filmmaking of the psychological thriller and horror genres. Finally in 2020, it seems that he has passed that baton... to his son.
While not technically his feature debut, (that was in 2012 with, Antiviral) Possessor, feels like, Brandon Cronenberg’s introduction to the world with this genuinely captivating and sometimes haunting film. I suppose it helps that he clearly had a decent budget at his disposal. That being said, for a concept that would make, Jerry Bruckheimer salivate, Cronenberg stretches his resources to the utmost and the film never gets lost in the grand spectacle or feels overly driven by effects. Actually, the overall tone of, Possessor, is exactly the opposite. The end result is often times very intimate and even claustrophobic in places. And that is exactly the point.
The film’s concept revolves around a cutting edge technology that allows a person to implant themselves into the mind of a host, in essence taking over the consciousness of that host. Of course, in this case, the tech is in the hands of a shady corporate entity that is actually using it to assassinate high profile targets. The narrative primarily follows the company’s top assassin, Tasya (with a character introduction from, Cronenberg, that lets the viewer know right up front that this is not going to be for the faint of heart). Tasya, using the host’s body, brutally eliminates her targets and then “ejects” from the host as they are disposed of, thus leaving no trace or suspicion that the person who physically does the killing, is not the person actually responsible.
We get a glimpse early on of exactly goes into this process and the potential consequences that “possessing” another individual for a prolonged period of time may bring. After a successful mission,Tasya, is put through a series of tests to ensure that she is not losing her mental capacities or her identity as a whole. Many of these nuances are peppered in throughout the film, giving greater insight into the program. These details never weigh down the story and establish that this undertaking isn’t without it’s risks. Interestingly enough, we then get a window into our assassins personal life, as we see, Tasya, make efforts to reconnect with her family... A husband who she is currently separated from and their son. It is evident that she is having difficulties juggling her two lives and the facets that comes with each.
The film does a great job of immediately building empathy for our lead character and recognizing her crisis of identity that comes from such an unusual occupation. In doing so, you are not condoning what, Tasya, is doing outright, nor are you complicit in her actions. You are a passenger simply along for the ride. As we watch, Tasya, accept her next mission and prepare herself for the challenges that come with her new assignment, you almost feel like you are the implant... with her every step of the way as she is briefed, rehearses her hosts speech and mannerisms, and put through necessary preparations before finally being mentally inserted into her new host. Of course, this mission won’t be like any of her previous and it doesn’t take too long before, Tasya, and the audience realizes that something isn’t quite right.
Shot in Toronto, the movie not only looks great, (a nod to both Croneberg and cinematographer Karim Hussain), but is expertly cast and performed. Every actor and actress gives exactly what is needed in the moment and without a doubt aid in the storytelling. While some of the leads like Andrea Riseborough (who plays, Tasya) and Christopher Abbott (playing her primary host, Colin Tate) are lesser known commodities, they absolutely shine in their roles while the ensemble (including some more recognizable talents like Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh) give the right amount of depth and credibility to the film as a whole.
To label , Possessor, as a horror film I feel is not only unfair but also not entirely accurate. Certainly, Croneberg, (like his father) has a penchant for presenting violence in a very unsettling and brutal way, but it is truly fitting to the story being told while lending itself to the gritty vibe of the film. You could also make the argument that having your consciousness pushed away by an outside force, being forced to bear witness as this parasite puppeteers you through atrocities, also makes for a terrifying premise. The film undoubtedly has a dark and foreboding atmosphere, but it borrows from a number of different genres and has a far deeper meaning then what is simply presented on the surface.
I will say that I can see the ending being potentially off putting or unsatisfying to some viewers. However, I also feel like it’s the most genuine to the characters and the story being told. Regardless of how you feel, it’ll definitely leave you pondering the complete nature of what you just watched. In many ways, Brandon Cronenberg, effectively channels his father in, Possessor. Not just in presentation, but also when it comes examining and reflecting on human nature. A typical Cronenberg film leaves no stone unturned when inspecting these darker aspects of ourselves and Possessor, is no exception. The end result is a tense thriller that draws you in and then straps you down for one hell of a disturbing yet entertaining ride.
Possessor, oozes vintage Cronenberg. For that alone, I’m giving it an extra half star. Overall, I give it 4 ½ out of 5 stars. As a legit fan of, David, I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds with son, Brandon. If this is any indication of what’s to come, I’m eager to see what other twisted yet captivating stories are in store. Dad certainly must be proud. Possessor, is available now to stream or rent on most platforms, including Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.
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