Here’s a recurring critical dilemma: How to recommend a film that is undoubtedly very good but intentionally difficult to watch.
The 400-Word Review: Possessor
By Sean Collier
October 9, 2020
This happens once or twice a year, when a director aims to distress rather than entertain. That’s not necessarily achieved through violence (although in the case of “Possessor,” there’s plenty), but rather through narrative, editorial and cinematographic choices that seek to invoke discomfort and anxiety.
In recent years, I felt this way about Gasper Noé’s hallucinogenic “Climax” and Luca Guadagnino’s disorienting “Suspiria,” both of which I greatly admired. I also felt this way about Darren Aronofsky’s presumptuous “mother!,” which I admired far less. The common thread, in those three films and “Possessor,” is the conclusion: While there’s plenty there, you probably shouldn’t watch it.
If you do, approach from a calm and steady place; if you’re feeling antsy that day, save “Possessor” for another. This is a film that is so busy crafting its tale of intracranial crisis that it doesn’t have time to see if the audience has been left in its wake.
Tasya (Andrea Riseborough) is a high-tech assassin who kills targets while inhabiting another person’s body. Her shadowy employer, represented by manager Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), kidnaps patsies and implants a device in their brains; it allows assassins to hitch a ride, murdering a target using hands that can’t be traced back to the real killers.
After Tasya struggles with a fairly routine job, Girder suspects it may be related to ongoing feelings about her estranged husband (Rossif Sutherland) and son (Gage Graham Arbuthnot). Tasya insists that she’s fine, and moves into the mind of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a former drug dealer trying to walk the line; his girlfriend’s dad (Sean Bean) is a tech mogul and assassination target.
Colin, however, seems to be fighting back — or perhaps Tasya isn’t on her game. Whatever the cause, things are shaky inside Colin’s head.
“Possessor” tells its story, under the careful hand of writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, on parallel tracks. One is purely cinematic — disturbing visual and auditory representations of the battle for Colin’s mind — and one is practical, as Girder and crew try to figure out what the hell is going on with Tasya. The inevitably blood-soaked conclusion is shocking and chilling. Those are good descriptors for the whole film; ultimately, however, words fail to describe “Possessor.”
It’s very good. Proceed with the utmost caution.
My Rating: 9/10