(After a buzzworthy debut at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor hits VOD on October 2, 2020 via Neon Releasing. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
Director Brandon Cronenberg’s Sci-Fi Thriller Possessor explores the concept of mind-control in a terrifying new way. Imagine being unable to control your own mind, body, and actions, and instead having someone else control all of those functions. Now, imagine the person controlling you is an agent that works for a secretive company that orders hits on individuals for high-paying clients, and you are the latest in a long line of poor souls used to carry out an assassination. That disturbing scenario powers the propulsive narrative of Possessor.
The film begins at a late-night dinner party on a high floor of a skyscraper. A waitress approaches a high-level executive and, seemingly out of nowhere, stabs him in the stomach. The film then cuts to the interior of a scientific lab with a few individual pods in it. One of the pods opens and inside lies top agent Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough, Birdman), controlling the waitress from a remote location. Though a top performer at her organization, Tasya has been negatively affected by her job duties and struggles with suppressing violent thoughts, even in her everyday life with her family. Soon, Tasya is tasked with taking out the CEO of a mysterious, highly profitable company by taking over the body of his son-in-law, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, It Comes at Night). However, Tate proves to be a much stronger host than she is used to, and she struggles to maintain control of his body and mind.
For a concept as intriguing and extraordinary as mind control, the filmmakers break it down in an accessible way. There are so many details explained, such as protocols before/during the mind control process and specific instructions that are given to Tasya throughout the process. For example, Tasya has to study Tate closely before taking over his mind and learn his speech patterns, mannerisms, and personality so that those around him would not suspect any difference in his behavior. Also, once Tasya is in control of one’s mind, she makes the host slowly but surely show signs of distaste for the target that is to be killed, so that there is a traceable progression that would explain the eventual murder. All in all, the agents do their homework, and the whole process is extremely entertaining to see play out.
Our main character of Tasya is a complex one. She struggles to act like a normal person in typical situations when she is not at work, and often rehearses simple conversations before engaging in them. She is methodical, cunning, and precise, but has a hard time functioning in everyday society. While she essentially ruins people’s lives by controlling them and having them commit murders, she also has a human element that makes the audience sympathize with her: her family. She has a complicated relationship with her ex, and a very close relationship with her young son. Because of this, it is all the more heartbreaking to see Tasya’s mental health deteriorate as she wrestles with violent urges and thoughts. Most of the other periphery characters are captivating, and the interactions between Tasya and others while she is in control of Tate’s body are fun to watch on many levels.
The film unfortunately relies on strange, unnecessary and cheesy insert shots meant to symbolize Tasya’s taking and losing control of Tate’s mind. These inserts consist of rapid-fire edits of different images one after the other amongst strange colored backgrounds accompanied by obnoxious flashing lights. Those who suffer from epilepsy or similar conditions or have eyes sensitive to strobe lights would have serious trouble when viewing these scenes. Also, the film gets a bit convoluted near the end, as sometimes it is difficult to determine whether Tasya or Tate is in control of Tate’s mind/body at different moments. The film also borders on being overly gory at points but if that’s your thing, then you won’t be disappointed.
Possessor is a fascinating film with an ambitiously detailed central concept and a layered protagonist that the viewer can root for even though she kills people for a living. The intricacies of the mind-control process keep the viewer engaged and interested throughout the film. A strong understanding of its elaborate mind-control process combined with compelling characters makes Possessor an entertaining and engaging entry into the increasingly realistic Sci-Fi genre.