London Film Festival
In his 2012 debut feature Antiviral, director Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) brutally satirized a culture’s obsession with celebrity, and the lengths we go to get close to them. Now, in this year’s Possessor, he once again aims to deride one of today’s topics – drone warfare – by hitting a little closer to home.
Tasya Vos (the underrated Andrea Riseborough) has a husband, son, and suburban life. To the outside she is nothing but a regular woman performing what she considers to be her duties in order to keep her job a secret; as a hitwoman, she regularly inhabits the bodies of others in order to execute her targets, until her latest subject, Colin (Christopher Abbott) begins to fight her back.
What happens over the course of the film is a continual battle over which mind and soul inhabit Colin’s body, a vessel being fought over by two particularly stubborn forces. As Tasya and Colin continually push and pull each other for power, they meet in a seemingly “other” realm, a space in which nothing occupies save for the mind of the protagonists. Almost constantly perplexed by the events happening both in and outside of the body, much of the movie is purposely cause for confusion – as Tasya tries to remain in control of the body, blood spills, and the body count rises, much is left ambiguous as to who is actually in charge here.
Visually, the film is fascinating and almost experimental. As Tasya disappears into the body of her next scapegoat, her body melts away to be rebuilt into Colin, whilst the fight for the soul is edited to a frenetic pace. Taking a leaf out of his father’s book, Cronenberg remains focused on the body horror, but, despite the interesting visuals elsewhere in the film, the gore is less effective; whilst Cronenberg Senior’s works are disturbing and occasionally repellent, his sons seem gratuitous and often self-indulgent – particularly a scene mid-film involving a poker – and does very little to service the story.
Its narrative is sleight but is elevated by its performances. In particular, Riseborough is fantastic as Tasya – as her psychotic tendencies are buried down by the nuclear family life she is forced to swallow, she plays her part-within-a-part beautifully (see, for example, a moment early on in which she practices greeting her family with a loving smile, grimacing through the process). Abbot is also good as Colin, however, the material with which he’s provided is underdeveloped, making it entirely unclear as to why we should care about his person, or why we might be rooting for him during the fight for control over his body. Not much is delved into prior to his being’s hijacking, rendering him just an empty vessel for Tasya to occupy.
It may be far too surreal for some, and much too gory for others, but Possessor raises questions surrounding modern warfare, control, and the blurring grey area of responsibility that few others are asking if a little undercooked.
- Roni Cooper
Shirley plays as part of the London Film Festival, running from 7 -18 October. Learn more via their website.