Jonathan Case’s review published on Letterboxd:
20th Watch of Hooptober 7!
Criteria Satisfied: A Film from 2020 & A Body Horror Film
A bloody blend of Bergman and Garland, Possessor paints an expertly crafted, graphic imagery oriented tale of corporate espionage and body horror as an assassination mission goes horribly wrong.
Before I continue though, I have a confession. I am in the unique position of having only seen a few of David Cronenberg's works so I can't really draw any comparisons between him and his son aside for their shared penchant for a particular brand of the macabre.
Brandon Cronenberg moves his film along at a pace that deceptively lulled me into a place where I forgot to look for a plot. Focusing on Riseborough's Tasya Vos for most of its runtime, I grew accustomed to her world.
This isn't to say I found myself bored, but I wasn't immediately pulled in either. In fact, I found myself leaning in on my own accord as I found the stand-offish, detached demeanor of the main character hard to connect with. As a result, I didn't find myself thoroughly involved until the technological elements and the nightmarish, abstract visualizations of the body hopping process came into play. From that point forward, the infiltration and violent altercations carried things until grounding the emotions of the entire film in a single scene of intense character drama.
Possessor is aces across the board in a technical sense. The script, performances and especially the direction are incredible. The first of these is sparse in terms of dialogue as characters only speak when they absolutely have to. Somehow, despite this, the film thankfully never devolves into an exposition fest.
The protagonist is a performer in her own right as she examines her targets ahead of time in order to integrate into their life after she's infiltrated their body. Riseborough's ability to bring such a character to life is impressive. Furthermore, the two actors whose characters she possesses, are remarkable in their own right as they must portray a process which involves scanning through a series of emotions.
The most memorable takeaway for most I'd imagine, beyond Cronenberg's vision of the body swapping process, is the sheer graphic brutality. A fair amount of it was onscreen, front and center and very difficult to watch. There might be an underlying meaning in its madness as Riseborough's assassin's methods for dispatching her targets are not to her superior's plan and supply the majority of the more disturbing moments. Her ferocity implies there being more to her in the form of damage done by the conscious connecting machine or simply by her having to regularly kill people. To say for sure what is going on would be me reading too far in for a single watch.
I'm not sure if or when I'll see Possessor again, but it's not one I'll forget as it'll surely stick with me. Walking out of the theater, I had a numb feeling that I haven't felt since I first experienced I Saw the Devil. While I still feel that that film made me endure more, the fact that I draw the comparison at all is telling in and of itself. Both are harrowing experiences from directors with a true and thorough vision.
Edit: I realized I had in fact seen a few of David Cronenberg’s works after all. Not sure how I missed that fact.