Combustible Celluloid
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With: Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Rossif Sutherland, Kaniehtiio Horn, Raoul Bhaneja, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Gabrielle Graham
Written by: Brandon Cronenberg
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/02/2020

Possessor (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Body and Sole

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the legendary David Cronenberg, this extreme sci-fi/body-horror story doesn't have anything terribly unique to say, but it's certainly told in a powerfully disturbing way.

In Possessor, a woman, Holly (Gabrielle Graham), walks through a hotel restaurant, shoots a man, and stabs him until she's spattered with blood. She tries to shoot herself in the head and hesitates, but when the police arrive, they do the job for her. Suddenly, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) jolts awake, strapped inside a strange machine. She's an assassin who has been operating Holly's body, and her mission is now complete.

A woman named Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) talks the shaken Tasya back to reality. After a visit with her estranged husband and son, Tasya decides to get back to work, taking on a new challenge. Inside the body of former drug dealer Colin (Christopher Abbott), she has three days to kill Colin's girlfriend (Tuppence Middleton) and her evil CEO father (Sean Bean). But with Tasya's psyche slowly coming unraveled, can she complete the task?

Disappointingly, Possessor really doesn't go very far into exactly how this body-possessing technique actually works, and it doesn't seem very practical; it requires painful, bloody holes drilled in heads and constant adjusting to keep everything in sync. Likewise, Tasya's ultimate goal of murdering the CEO and his daughter is largely pointless compared to Tasya's bizarre, and soul-threatening journey.

The younger Cronenberg sets a challenge for himself to find ways to visualize Tasya's inner torment. A powerful and timely opening sequence gets things off with a gut-punch. Possessor uses bizarre colors and patterns throughout, disturbing make-up effects (melting flesh, etc.), and, every so often, a disorienting, flashing strobe effect (sensitive viewers probably shouldn't watch this).

Riseborough really commits to her deeply physical, punishing performance; she's so deep that it's possible to feel her presence even when watching Abbot. Veteran actor Leigh (she was in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ) matches Riseborough, providing a bit of sinister backstory for this assassin business with nothing more than the tone of her voice.

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