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Anyone who has watched Mark Zuckerberg attempt to smile has known the face of true terror. Yet when movies use corporations as villains, the depiction is almost always all slick suits and shadowy boardrooms, granting monied douchebags a stealthy swagger they probably don’t even hate. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor gives it to us ugly. And it’s great.
One of the villains in the Mission-Impossible-as-a-horror-movie is a data-mining corporation that does shit like make minimum-wage workers watch streaming video of untold horrors so they can catalogue what curtains people own. The other “bad guy” is a company that literally murders people using advanced technology. Black Mirror looks sugar-coated next to Possessor.
Concerned more with style and thematic substance over plot intricacies, the spawn of David Cronenberg kept his sophomore feature-length effort lean. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) uses a brain implant or some such pseudoscience tomfoolery to take control of unsuspecting individuals. She then pilots their bodies to commit assassinations.
Having one-sided Freaky Friday-ed so many people, Vos is now frazzled. When she takes over Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a cocaine-enthusiast wang who is about to marry into a data-mining fortune, things get messy. Tate and Vos wind up with comingled psyches and covered in so, so very much blood.
Possessor is tense and gross, but not like “refreshing presidential election results every 15 seconds” tense and gross. Cronenberg’s film is that delicious kind of disorienting. And although it is certainly punctuated with brief moments of icky-icky-gross killin’, for the most part, it’s actually pretty gorgeous. The atmosphere is simultaneously upsetting and comforting, never creating anxiety through abrupt editing or jarring shifts but through a persistent turning of the mental screws.
Abbott—who is like the Bizarro Kit Harington, in that he looks just like him but can actually act—is masterfully controlled here. As his character French kisses the mouth of madness, Abbott never oversteers his performance. Although on screen far less, Riseborough manages to be equally mesmerizing. Without any dialogue dump or ham-fisted explanation, Possessor exposes the soul of both characters and condemns the capitalist overlords who are pulling invisible digital threads.
The fact that nothing is spelled out is going to absolutely piss off wide swaths of viewers. The main reason that so many movies vomit exposition into the mouths of audiences—baby bird-style—is because so many demand it. Possessor is the kind of proudly self-confident film that shrugs and says “Go ahead and hate it then, I guess?” And many people will do just that!
However, anybody who has ever yearned to see what a slightly-more-literal David Lynch spy movie would look like is going to be in absolute heaven. Possessor is show-don’t-tell terror that doesn’t finger-wag at technology users but flips the bird to the ugly manipulators who actually profit from controlling us like disposable puppets. What a blissfully upsetting experience!
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Kat Hughes at The Hollywood News absolutely says lots of things I tried to say way better, concluding that the film is “stunning in its beauty, mesmerising in its brutality, and captivating with its complexities.”
Carla Hay at Culture Mix says it is “worth watching for some unnerving depictions of mind power and control.”
Michelle Kisner at The Movie Sleuth says “it is one of the most haunting and compelling techo-horror films ever made.”
Rendy Jones at RendyReviews wants more. “I don’t regularly say this but…franchise this. Please franchise this. I want a Possessor franchise. This is such a badass concept with such meticulous execution. I want more of Possessor.”