Many have emphasized Possessor’s disturbing use of violence, gore and tone, and while that’s totally what fans of David Cronenberg should expect from the sophomore feature of his son Brandon Cronenberg, its visceral allegory to identity is what truly mesmerises. Released in theaters on Oct. 2, Possessor follows a corporate assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who uses a futuristic brain-implant technology to control the bodies of other people to eliminate her targets, but her latest assignment puts her in a body (Christopher Abbott) with a resisting consciousness that threatens them both.
Persona is unarguably the definitive format for dealing with identity in film, even last year’s The Lighthouse is obviously a masculine take on Persona’s existential identity crisis, but Possessor aims and succeeds in being completely its own thing narratively and visually. The subtleties of the practical effects made it all the more aesthetically chaotic. It’s doubtful that many other directors would go behind the camera themselves and do a practical lens flare instead of a digital one for the sake of providing the audience a differentiating visual atmosphere, but its effects are also not without a purpose. Its purpose of disillusioning reality and identity through visuals simply culminates in a movie both cerebral and stylish.
2020 must be the year of women in terms of acting. Jessie Buckley, Carrie Coon and now Andrea Riseborough have all given, in my opinion, the three best performances of the year so far. This movie’s major flaw is the lack of characterization of the lead, which is a problem in a movie about identity, but Riseborough forms this character into her own, expressing a relatable persona that’s subtly disconnected from the world and her life. When Riseborough first appears, what immediately strikes is just how awful she looks. She appears like a directionless ghost drifting through the mundane, looking for a body that feels at home ironically enough. Christopher Abbott gives quite the impressive performance as well. Acting within acting, especially with subtlety, is never an easy feat, but Abbott easily pulls it off, and when the two consciousnesses inevitably start duking it out over the body, Abbott expresses this chaos with a tonal realism.
Expectations might lead one to believe that this is the most straightforwardly terrifying movie this year, but struggling with one’s identity is a universal problem. Not often does a recently released horror movie have quick wit as well as smart, effective terror, so besides some non-existent characterization, I obviously highly recommend checking this out. I’m going to give Possessor an 8/10.