possessor | brandon cronenberg | andrea riseborough | christopher abbott | jennifer jason leigh | body horror | secret society | sci-fi | sci fi | thriller | united kingdom | canada | rossif sutherland | sean bean | tuppence middleton | kaniehtiio horn
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott and Jennifer Jason Leigh
This was a movie that its trailer was being shown at the Gateway Film Center before some of the movies I was going to see there. I caught the name of it, that it starred Andrea Riseborough and was written/directed by Brandon Cronenberg. I’ve seen a couple of his films, enjoyed what he’s been doing and Riseborough has been in quite a few genre films lately as well. I also gave this a rewatch as part of my end of the year, just to see what I thought after a second viewing. Aside from that, I came in pretty blind to be honest. The synopsis here is we follow an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients.
We start this off with Holly (Gabrielle Graham) sticking something in the top of her head. It is connected to what looks like an older looking dial and whatever it is, it is hurting her. She then goes off to what I’m assuming is work. She focuses in on a water fountain, but the water is moving backwards, against gravity. I’ll get into the significance of this shortly. Katherine (Hanneke Talbot) then calls out to her to see what is taking her so long. She then goes into work and heads directly for Elio (Matthew Garlick). She doesn’t waste any time stabbing him in the neck and then repeatedly until he dies. A pistol is taken from her purse and there is hesitation to kill herself. The policeman arrive and end up shooting her.
It then takes us to Tasya Vos (Riseborough). She is answering questions about items being taken from a box by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). This is a cognitive test to just ensure that everything is fine from what she just did. Tasya does raise some concerns, but everything from the tests seems to be checking out. They are working as a group of assassins. As the synopsis states, this seems a lot like Assassin’s Creed. Instead of sending them into the past though, they’re taking over other bodies, controlling them and killing assets. Tasya is the best in the business currently, but her concerns make Girder question her. They have their biggest job coming up and Vos is needed.
Tasya then has an interesting scene where she is practicing what she will say. We see the reason is that she is a bit estranged from her husband, Michael (Rossif Sutherland), and her son of Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). This is brought up during her tests where it was thought they are no longer together, but it appears they are working things out. It seems that Tasya left, probably due to the nature of her work, where Michael wants her to move back in. She is breaking down mentally and this seems to be part of the reason she’s staying away. Grider wants her to remove all ties as it can jeopardize things mentally when they’re working.
Despite what she is going through mentally, she decides to tell Girder she is in for this next job. It seems that Reid (Christopher Jacot) wants to take over his father's business. In order to do so, John Parse (Sean Bean) needs to be eliminated along with his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Her boyfriend, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), is the person they’re looking to take over. They want it to seem like he’s acting different and be made the scapegoat. If they pull this off, they will control the business as not only money are part of the contract.
Things become problematic. Colin is breaking the control that Tasya has over him. She thinks it will be fine, but when it comes time to act, the worst thing possible happens and it is a battle to gain control so she can make a clean break mentally or their minds could completely melt. The resulting problems could be disastrous to both parties.
That’s where I’m going to leave the recap as that gets you up to speed without really getting too much into the spoiler section. Where I want to start for my analysis is that it is fitting that Brandon Cronenberg did this movie. While I’m watching it, I got vibes of him meshing a couple of his father’s movies together with Scanners and Videodrome.
To break that down a bit farther, I’ll start with the first part of the statement. Much like Scanners we are dealing with espionage. If memory serves me there, that is part of what they were planning to use those with this psychic ability. Here we are getting something similar, but in the sense that they’re controlling the body of someone with a machine. I don’t want to spoil the older movie, there is a bit with melding of minds as well and ‘sucking of brains’. We see that Tasya’s losing grip with reality and that allows Colin to fight back. It isn’t done cheesy either which works. She notices little things, but she keeps them to herself, which is problematic the longer she is in Colin’s head.
Then to the other part of it with the Videodrome reference. This company is going for a new world order which draws parallels there. We also get some body horror in this movie. I was expecting with some of Cronenberg’s previous films and heck, his father is a master of this subgenre which is partly why I’m comparing to take elements from two of his films.
I should probably shift really quickly to cover this aspect of the movie with the body horror. It was interesting, because I debate whether to call this a body horror film or not. The movie has a few different places where we get really graphic elements, but it doesn’t feel like that type of movie overall. There is a scene where someone is attacked and their face is mangled. That looked real. Any of the other attacks fall into this as well. There is this interesting flesh melding scene and having Colin wearing Tasya’s face like a mask. It all makes sense to the story while making it that much creepier. I do have to give credit to the cinematography here as well. They have blurry images and making it feel like we’re experiencing when these people are confused as to what is going on. I also really enjoyed the use of colored filters. They use blue when things are a bit calmer and then red as things are falling apart. This was a strong part of the film for sure.
To just back a bit to the story elements here, I really like this idea of assassins using people’s bodies. I’ve already given some examples of different things that are using similar premises here so I’ll shift over to the element of the brain’s melting together. Tasya is great at what she does. She notices different things that should stop her from doing what she does, but ignores it. That is my take on the things defying the laws of physics like gravity. Colin seems to be pretty strong willed on top of that. I think that it makes for an interesting climax that went places I wasn’t expecting it to.
Something that I noticed with this second viewing is how terrifying the company that Colin is working for. John Parse has a company that looks to be using the camera on different devices. This is of course hacking and illegal, but they’re using it to see what people have in their home. Colin when we see it is looking for curtains and has to describe them. I think this is being done so they can tailor the data, sell to companies so they can target the right products to customers. It is quite scary.
I think that I should take this to the acting of the movie. Riseborough is an actress that I didn’t know about until recently and she really just impresses me with the roles she’s taking on. I don’t want to come off as mean, but I don’t find her attractive. She plays well though this disheveled look of someone who has gone through a lot. She also plays well here of being just worn out. Leigh is solid in her smaller role. Abbott is really good as well. I’ve seen him before and the other movie he did a good job there with his performance. Middleton and Bean were both really good. The latter really being a jerk and he plays it so well. There is this weird dynamic of how the rich live, which makes sense why Tasya feels so out of place. Ava’s friends of Kaniehtiio Horn, Deragh Campbell and Dorren Lee help to build this gap. Sutherland and Graham-Arbuthnot are also both solid in their roles.
That is really all that I wanted to go over for this movie. If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed the concept and the story that they were building. The acting was good in carrying what they were going for and the realistic effects give it a body horror feel. I think the cinematography was also really good for helping it. The soundtrack isn’t one that I would listen to regularly, but I thought that it fit exactly for what they needed. I’m really glad that I gave this a second viewing as I noticed much more this time around. I’ve come up on my rating for this one. I don’t think it is a perfect movie, but it is really good. Not one I could recommend to anyone, as there are some vicious scenes. If you get past that, it looks at some interesting ideas for sure.
My Rating: 9 out of 10