Brandon Cronenberg’s visceral 2020 techno-thriller wastes no time in setting out its stall. Possessor opens with a brutal pre-title sequence in which we witness a woman penetrating her scalp with a mysterious probe. She cries as she turns a dial. Cut to a gaudy, gleaming, crowded function room where she murders a man in a frenzied attack with a steak knife, her pristine white trainers squeaking in the blood. “Pull me out.” the woman says to an empty room, putting a pistol in her mouth…
As an opening, it is demonstrative of the kind of verve, mystery and extreme violence that characterise the film. Slowly, Cronenberg introduces us to a world of biohacking, murder-for-hire and corporate espionage. Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an assassin who, through a grisly technological hook-up, quite literally takes control of the bodies of others in order to carry out her profession. Taking on different personas allows her to gain proximity to her targets, and as long as she ensures that her host body is destroyed in the aftermath, then the police have no leads.
Cronenberg uses his sci-fi scenario to explore base notions of identity, gender and penetration
Possessor is reminiscent of such art house provocations as Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover and Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel in its slick, nihilistic depiction of the extreme logical conclusion of cutthroat capitalism. But there is more here. We see Vos begin to physically and mentally disintegrate as she takes a new host, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) — a man dating the daughter of his corporate overlord, and surveillance tech tycoon, John Parse (Sean Bean).
Vos has to live in Tate’s body for a few days. She slips his hand between his legs. She works his job. She has sex with his girlfriend. Cronenberg uses his sci-fi scenario to explore base notions of identity, gender and penetration as Vos prefers to execute her business with steak knives and fire pokers rather than the firearm with which she is issued. The director’s father is the illustrious Canadian auteur and Videodrome director David Cronenberg and their shared interest in relating bodily violence to philosophical ideas has been widely noted. But with this follow-up to his queasy debut Antiviral, it is clear that the younger Cronenberg is staking out a style and territory that is all his own.