“Pull me out.”
Such is the plea of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a corporate assassin who allows her consciousness downloaded into the minds of others so that can commit murders for the benefit of the company. As the focus of Brandon Cronenberg’s latest sci-fi horror Possessor, Vasya has a special gift for her craft. However, with each host that she inhabits, Vasya becomes increasingly broken by her experiences, leading to violent memories and urges that she must suppress in her ‘real’ life. When she accepts a mission to kill the head of a major corporation (Sean Bean), her host Colin (Christopher Abbott) begins to fight back against his unknown mental assailant, causing Tasya to lose control and potentially remain trapped in a prison of his consciousness.
Possessor is a visceral and unsettling sci-fi horror that explores what it means to suppress our darkest urges. While the cast does an excellent job encapsulating Cronenberg’s vision (Seriously, when has Andrea Riseborough ever left a role wanting?), the real story to Possessor is Cronenberg himself. Featuring complex characters and stunning (and often disturbing) visuals, Cronenberg continues to show maturity behind the camera. With each long take and slow pan, his slow-burning lens becomes a predator, carefully stalking its prey with an almost soothing intensity. Then, in times of violence, Cronenberg goes the opposite direction, forcing the viewer to watch the unflinching horror that sits in front of them. At the same time, his use of bleeding and blinding colour palette paints a primeval portrait of the inner tensions of Tasya’s victims that blurs the lines of reality. In doing so, Cronenberg’s use of colour and camera almost become visual narrators, not only providing a backdrop for the story but plunging the viewer within it.
With this in mind, Possessor provides Cronenberg the opportunity to explore the fragile nature of identity in a world where we can become anyone in a digital space. As Tasya moves in and out of her hosts, she must fully immerse herself in their world. Not unlike the digital identities that we inhabit on a daily basis, Tasya’s experiences allow her to explore the lives of her psychological victims. However, she also loses a piece of her soul in the process. As a result, though she is hardly in love with her work, neither can she fully separate herself from it either. With each mission, the damage that she has caused continues to take a toll on her.
Plagued by violent memories, her experiences in the minds of others cause Tasya to struggles to understand what it means to be fully human (or fully herself) anymore. While her husband and son welcome her home, her family brings her little joy. Violence has become her vice and she uses it to feel alive. To Vasya, the ‘jobs’ have become opportunities to experience closer personal connections in the midst of a disconnect—and gruesome—life. (One particular example of this comes when, after a particularly brutal mission, Vasya is asked why she used a knife to kill her victim, as opposed to the recommended gun.) In this way, Cronenberg’s view of identity focuses less on how we mature and grow from experiences but rather the perils of losing ourselves in the process and the damage that we may leave in our wake.
Though terrifying in its brutality, Possessor is far more than another example of graphic body horror. Never one to shy away from complex issues, Cronenberg again is willing to explore the instability of the mind at a time when we consistently put on social masks. By following Vasya’s psychological descent, Possessor reveals what can happen when the foundations our identities are shaken by taking on the roles of others.
Possessor is available on VOD and in theatres now.