Possessor ★★★★

I am pretty desensitised to on screen violence. I don't particularly feel the need to share a long list of credentials backing up this point, I would merely ask that you trust I'm inured enough to this sort of thing, that it does mean something when I say there were parts of Possessor that had me literally cringing in my seat.

For the record, the 18 rated UK release was the same as the Possessor Uncut home release in the US.

Anyway. Possessor concerns corporate assassin Tasya Vos, who eliminates her targets by having her consciousness uploaded into other people's bodies, thereby "possessing" them. This is set out entirely by the in media res opening, where Vos is in possession of the body of a club hostess and uses it to brutally stab to death a lawyer. It's a genuinely arresting opening, one that sets the stage and tone for everything to come, even before the title card has shown.

It feels impossible to address what Brandon Cronenberg has done here without mentioning the father-shaped elephant in the room, because in terms of style and themes and interests, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. "Cronenbergian" has become something of a cliche and lazy term for just about anything involving body horror (one I've fallen back on myself a few times, no doubt), but the brand of horror showcased in Possessor does make it feel very much like a 21st century spin on a film David Cronenberg would have made himself in the 80s and 90s.

In my review of Crash I made mention of this idea of cold metal colliding with raw human sexuality, and in a big way Possessor is made from a contemporary version of the same DNA. In order for the digital consciousness to be uploaded to a body, a metal implant has to first be drilled into the brain. The violation is not only mental and spiritual, but it's also physical. And the technological horror doesn't stop there. A sequence in the middle of the film features Vos conducting a data gather by spying on people through their webcams, catching several in their most intimate moments. Whilst the possession implants are very much the thing of science fiction, this simple surveillance aspect seems terrifyingly plausible.

As well as commenting briefly on this idea of surveillance, Possessor seems to use its allegory as an excoriation of the more general idea of capitalism, and the way in which the most soul destroying jobs can seem to crush the humanity out of people. Upon returning home, Vos takes a moment to stand outside and practice very basic pleasantries, as though the work she is undertaking has begun stripping away at the very fabric of her soul, to the point that she is forgetting how to function as a basic human being. During this pandemic, I and a lot of other people have transitioned to working from home, and while Possessor takes this to an exaggerated and unsettling place, it is true that sometimes it can be tough to switch off and transition to being relaxed and "normal" when the separation between home and work is so blurred. I believe Possessor was made before the current situation, but it adds something to the metaphor nonetheless.

Where Brandon Cronenberg does separate himself from his father is in the inclusion of more elements that border on surreal. Several times throughout the possession aspect is represented visually in a way that, as I was watching, had my mind reaching for comparisons to Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. The aesthetics are different, but the intent is similar, and it is unnerving. There is also an impressive commitment to capturing these weirder moments in camera as much as possible, which gives the effects an old fashioned physicality they may not have had with the use of digital effects. It's this mixture of old fashioned physical filmmaking updated with themes for the 21st century that make Possessor a very strong entry in the horror genre, pushing it forward into the 2020s in a big way.

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