It must be difficult living in the shadow of a legend. I imagine the instinct would be to avoid comparisons, to choose another line of work, or at least vary in approach. Brandon Cronenberg not only chose to become a filmmaker, with Possessor he has made a movie that feels like the descendant of some of David Cronenberg’s best. As a director, Brandon has proved his value, though I found myself questioning the screenplay’s follow-through on an undeniably creative sci-fi premise. The movie seems to devolve into splatter horror, though never with enough insight into character motivation for this to feel like much more than shock value. While Possessor may have style and precise filmmaking, I question the value of the storytelling.
Part of the film’s approach is to provide little exposition, simply relying on the audience to pay attention and pick up the details of this sci-fi premise. We join protagonist Tasya Vas (Andrea Riseborough) when she is not herself, but inside the body of a young woman who suddenly and graphically commits a public assassination. We soon discover that Tasya is an elite assassin working for a corporation with technology able to implant her mind into the body of unsuspecting targets, so as to remove any connection to the killings. The only problem is that Tasya seems to be struggling with the long-term effects of the process, in ways that are shown more than they are explained.
When assigned to a new job, Tasya hides her issues from her superior (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and proceeds to take over the mind of family man Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Tasya suffers glitches and issues almost immediately, but insists on being able to overcome the problem. In danger of having her mind overtaken by the owner of the body, Tasya puts both herself and the job at risk.
This version of the film is uncut, and although the violence is so overly graphic that I felt myself sickened more than once, I imagine that has more to do with a near pornographic level of sex and nudity. Cronenberg is doing his best to be shocking, and it is working. Whether he can be as effective in the storytelling, we shall have to wait and see with future endeavors. As it stands, the raw gratuitous violence that Cronenberg forces the audience to endure does not feel balanced by the need within the narrative. As such, it is filmmaking that treats the audience with more disdain than generosity.
The Blu-ray release of the uncut version of this already shocking film comes with additional deleted scenes in the special features. There is also a behind-the-scenes featurette, which is far more engaging.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 4/10