ScreeningNotes’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I barely recognize myself anymore."
When I started getting panic attacks over a decade ago, my psychologist prescribed me a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, a fairly common medication for anxiety, but I worried that it would change who I am, that it would affect my identity in some irreversible way. What was I so worried about? There's social pressure to act a certain way in company, to behave properly and to "be" "normal," but that's not exactly what I was afraid of losing—I've never been any good at that stuff to begin with. There was something deeper that I was desperately clinging to. It's not that I was worried I would feel or act differently, I was worried I would lose some ineffable part of myself, whether I could really describe what that was or even whether I would really be any different without it.
This anxiety is what drives the film, the idea that a parasite could enter our brain and inject bad thoughts into it and change who we are. The opening image of the film presents an elegant visual metaphor: a needle penetrates a skull. This happens to be important for the plot as well—it's the method that Tasya Vos and her agency of assassins use to control the human hosts who become their vessels—but it also instantly communicates the fragility of the division between mind and body, the instability of our control over our own brain, and thus the vulnerability of our identity. When Vos returns from her missions, she's tasked with identifying items, and not any random objects but ones that have personal significance to her. They are not simply evaluating her brain function, they are assessing the stability of her identity.
But off in the shadows, just out of sight of all this empathy the film expresses for the delicate nature of the human body and the tenuous grasp it holds over its own psychology, lingers something more sinister. Vos's mind gets stuck on the image of her knife penetrating her target's neck, the phallic metal disappearing beneath the pulsing vaginal flesh, the blood gushing from the wound. This image haunts her in a traumatic way, but perhaps not precisely in the way we might expect. The image of the knife wound significantly returns to her in the middle of a powerful orgasm. In addition to her corporeal concerns and her psychic stressors, Vos has some sexual hang-ups as well. Her target sees the cracks in her disguise when she shows too much thirst for him, and slowly her professionalism is overtaken by perversion.
One of the objects which Vos is called on to identify after her missions is a pinned butterfly. She describes killing and mounting it with perhaps a bit too much of a smile. Even without intruders, the mind is a treacherous place to be—and we're stuck in there forever.
"You've gone strange on me."