2020 BFI London Film Festival Review: POSSESSOR
Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Possessor is a tricksy and complex thriller which takes a potentially commercial concept and gives it an arthouse spin. At times it’s a little too convoluted for its own good, but this sci-fi thriller has a lot going for it, notably the striking visuals and strong performances from its cast.
Andrea Riseborough is Tasya Vos, an assassin whose mind and consciousness is transplanted into the body of Christopher Abbott’s Colin. The intention is to get Colin to kill tech giant John Parse (Sean Bean), however due to Vos’ fragile mental state and and Colin’s strong constitution both begin to coexist – something which causes complications to the mission.
Possessor owes a great debt to the writings of the great Philip K. Dick as well as the body horror films of Brandon Cronenberg’s father, David. Paranoia runs rife as Vos attempts to keep focus on her mission as Colin’s mind and body begin to outrun the authorities and Vos’ company. Cronenberg’s film is one of the most violent to hit screens in a long time as gallons of blood are spilled throughout the film’s running-time. Throw-in a lot of nudity and sex and you have a film which isn’t for the faint hearted.
Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott both give strong performances as the symbiotic characters fighting for dominance. They’re precise and delicate – there’s nothing flashy going on, all their work is internal (no pun intended). Jennifer Jason Leigh has a supporting role as Vos’ boss, whose demeanour swings from maternal to domineering depending on what she wants. Leigh’s casting is significant as she starred in David Cronenberg‘s 1999 release Existenz, a film which shares a lot of very similar elements with Possessor.
Karim Hussain’s work is beautifully composed and the cinematographer makes good use of the film’s real-life locations, crafting a world which feels at once familiar and futuristic. Hussain’s use of the colour red permeates the film – from the copious amounts blood spilled to lighting and preserved a butterfly – it’s everywhere.
Those expecting a science fiction thriller in the vein of Minority Report will be hugely disappointed (and very shocked.). However, anyone who sees the name Cronenberg on the credits will likely know to expect a trippy thriller that uses the human condition (and the human body) to show the horrors of technology in the modern age.