In a near future, a young woman called Holly attends a party. Seeking out a wealthy man she inexplicably stabs him in the throat. As the police arrive, she goes to take her own life – but can’t. Dying in a hail of bullets we discover that Holly wasn’t in control of her actions. Instead, she was being controlled by Andrea Riseborough’s Tasya Vos.
A corporate contract killer whose being is routinely implanted in other bodies so as to carry her assassinations, she possesses their both thoughts and actions. However, with increased exposure comes increased risk and Tasya is starting experience flashbacks from the people she inhabits.
... Possessor IS the movie that Tenet wanted to be.
With startling imagery from its very outset, director Brandon Cronenberg’s second movie is nothing if not arresting. Inheriting the same lack of squeamishness as his father David, Possessor‘s body horror is something you need to be ready for. Whilst it’s intent is not to be horrific, when it does come, you will see everything.
Other tonal similarities can be found in its music. Reminding you of Howard Shore’s funereal score for both eXistenZ and Videodrome, Possessor’s brass section suggests an atmosphere of increasingly sterile unease.
However for me, at its core, Possessor is a film really about relationships and none more so than the one played out between actresses Andrea Riseborough and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Riseborough is Tasya Vos, the “possessor”, a subepidermal assassin who is coming apart at the seams, who is being studied across the desk by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Girder. Crumpled in a haze of brown wardrobe choices and spectacle-rimmed cigarette smoke, Girder is the professionally-friendly judge of Tasya’s actions – and it’s a deliciously dry performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
So, whilst the movie never obliquely states its year, the daily THX 1138-like mundanity of Tasya’s latest quarry, Colin, as played by Christopher Abbott suggests the near future. Romantically linked to Tuppence Middleton’s Ava, Colin is ideally placed for Tasya to assassinate her industrialist father as played by Sean Bean. And whilst Sean Bean gets to briefly patronise and demean Tasya as Colin, it’ll be no surprise to no one as to how his casting is going to eventually end up.
So, whilst Possessor harbours thematic echoes of Christopher Nolan’s Inception with its spies moving through other people’s realities, Possessor is still the more markedly distinct movie. Whereas the characters from Inception all are immaculately tailored as they enter other people’s minds, Possessor‘s characters inhabit a much more tactile world. In addition whereas Inception and more recently Tenet employ mind-bendingly complex series of special effects to sell their surreal realities, director Brandon Cronenberg has gone for in-camera optical effects. So, whilst from a budgetary standpoint, Possessor is the poorer cousin to Nolan’s art-house blockbusters, I’d argue that this film’s paucity is actually a virtue which brings you far closer to its characters than Tenet ever did.
Hemmed in by the rules that writer/director Cronenberg has created for this narrative world, Tasya only has a fixed amount of time that she can stay inside her prey without becoming trapped. Also, with the binding of their bodies being a very fragile one, it needs to be regularly “re-calibrated” to make the possessions stick. All of which offers many interesting parameters and Cronenberg’s second feature stunningly wrings them dry as we near its conclusion.
So in the end, expect questions. Many, many questions because in the untangling of this tale, there’s going to be a lot to chew on. Whereas Tenet is a simple story complicatedly told, Possessor is a denser story, more simply told. See them both and see what you think. Both movies can safely co-exist in your movie appreciation lists of 2020 but if I had to sum it up in a single sentence movie poster quote, it’d be this:
Possessor IS the movie that Tenet wanted to be.0