Possessor (2020) – Amazing Body Horror From A Proven Pedigree

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Strangely enough, Malevolent Dark will do a review of a Brandon Cronenberg before we land a a review of one of his father’s movies. So many movies, so little time. For the record, we love David Cronenberg, and are very excited to see how far the apple falls from his horrific tree. In reviewing Brandon’s 2020 film, The Possessor (2020), we learned that there is still a lot of horror fuel in the Cronenberg family tank as Brandon takes us through a mind-bending journey through the fragility of the mind and the sense of self. With the exception of the exceptional Tobe Hooper film Lifeforce (1985), we have unintentionally dodged Sci-Fi Horror. We may need to fix that.

Possessor (2020) - Tasya Vos, cyber-assassin cast against the blackness of her existence
Karim Hussain uses simple shot framing to speak volumes about Tasya’a current state of mental well-being

Provocative Sci-Fi Horror

Before we get started we will lay out a little disclaimer. Cronenberg’s film is derivative of other works. I could easily draw dotted lines to Inception (2010) and The Cell (2000). So yeah, Brandon Cronenberg build upon a platform of ideas that have been around for a while. He once again asks the question of what it would be like to live in someone else’s skin. However, it’s what he does with these tropes that makes the difference. Brandon Cronenberg take the audience on a familiar path using familiar means. Ultimately, he takes that path into a deep dark destination that that many don’t want to admit is there.

His entire film presents like a masterful-class episode of Black Mirror.

We happen to live in a world that is on the precipice of deep foundational change at the hands of technology. Daily we read about severed spinal cords being repaired via microchips. Elon Musk continues to talk about Neuralink, a human computer interface. Reading a humans thoughts through advanced sensors, machine learning and artificial intelligence is real science being deployed as you read. Technology will change us profoundly. Unfortunately, at the same time that technology is saving us, it will also become a safe haven for nefarious means.

Possessor (2020) - Cronenberg again using the expanse of abyss to frame his bleak narrative
Tasya discusses her future with her boss, Girder, cast against the blackness of their mission

Like Father Like Son

These scary topics are not unlike what Brandon’s father took on in his illustrious career. David Cronenberg told us stories about mind control through the media, and the severe disassociation of mind and body that can occur when subjected to continual “overstimulation”. He retold stories about the collision of advanced teleportation with biology. It seems wholly appropriate that his son would continue down this technological rabbit hole. The interesting thing is that David Cronenberg had to forecast wildly into the future. By today’s standards, mind control via a cable T.V. station seems silly now that the reality of mind control is just around humanities corner.

Brandon benefits from the near-term implications of technology. Furthermore, Brandon also a fantastically advanced tool-chest of CGI goodies that his father never had.

Possessor (2020) - Tasya violently emerging from a job (left) and melting into her host (right)
Tasya violently emerging from a job (left) and melting into her host (right)

The Ultimate Assassination

Possessor investigates a world where industrial sabotage has reached such a level that the technocracy has developed the ultimate weapon. Trained assassins are able to infiltrate the minds of people through a human to brain interface. Through this link, they can control the subject to assassinate any target, then commit suicide; closing the loop on the perfect crime. It really is perfect, and scary. if you can control the minds of loved ones, you can get very close. Imagine the horror when someone you trust is the one that does you in. The only solace is that you never have to witness them commit suicide in front of your eyes.

However, this process has consequences that threaten to unravel the minds of those employed to carry out these crime. The main character is a woman named Tasya Vos. Andrea Riseborough portrays Tasya. Tasya deals with the direct mental effects of her neural connection as it threatens to blur the realities of herself with the realities of the person that she inhabits.. This peculiarity concerns her boss, a woman named Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). To retain the services of her star assassin, Girder must drive a wedge between Tasya and her emotional connections to the real world, including her family.

These plotlines connect ever so subtly beneath the surface of this film until they eventually burst forth in a nuclear ending that shows exactly how delicately humans navigate the line that divides ourselves, our livelihood and the technology that dominates our lives.

Possessor - As horrific as her crimes are, Tasya still has a loving family
Tasya’s loving family becomes the centerpiece of Cronenberg’s dystopian story

Beautifully Disorienting

Cinematography, special effects, CGI and lighting make this film possible. With the help of his lighting team, Karim Hussain creates incredible scenes that flex back and forth between reality and the derailment of Tasya’s mind. Cronenberg necessarily must create an uncomfortable world to pull his vision together. To do so, he uses many techniques from his father arsenal. Much of his father’s approach to practical body horror gives way to mind-melting CGI visual metaphors of people linking through technology. Notably, Hussain creates an envelope of despair for Tashya simply by photographing her pale figure in front of an abyss.

As assassinations take place, they result in horrifically brutal displays of violence that inundate the audience with shock and awe. Flickering back and forth between Tasya’s body form and that of the person she possesses depicts her struggle to maintain her own identity as she becomes more deeply rooted in the identity of her subjects. Using a distorted mask of Tasya’s face, Cronenberg beautifully illustrates how her own self became nothing more than a thin veneer hanging on the frame of the people she uses to commit her acts of depravity.

Possessor (2020) - Tasya barely clinging to the reality of her former self
Tasya barely clings to the reality of her former self

The Future Looks Bright

From our perspective, the proposition of a new generation of cerebral horror from the Cronenberg family. If Possessor is any indication of the future, the future is bright. Or, maybe instead the future is dark and bleak like the vision of this young director. Cronenberg creates a techno-acid trip that is as compelling as it is disturbing. He punctuates it with a horrible ending that competently close all of the loops and puts a horrifying exclamation point on his work. I was so pleasantly surprised by the competence of this young director. Malevolent Dark does not suspect that Brandon Cronenberg will spend much time in his father’s shadow.

Possessor is great film that deserves to be seen. Don’t dismiss it as another derivative sci-fi horror work. Possessor is profound as well as significant.