BFI LFF 2020

Possessor review – psychological thrills and gross-out body horror

Brandon Cronenberg's second film stars Andrea Riseborough as a corporate assassin - a freakish treat for those able to stomach it

Whether or not you’ll take to Possessor, the deranged sophomore feature from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, hellspawn of David, becomes apparent just two minutes into the film’s running time. We’re treated to an extreme close up of a needle-like rod being inserted into a woman’s scalp, the wound oozing with jam-red blood, like a popped zit. Cut to a mid-shot of the woman laughing maniacally with tears streaming down her face, the rod connected to an amp-like machine, a weird frequency being pulsed into her brain. And this is but a visceral aperitif.

If you’ve stomached this so far, you might be in for a freakish treat – or a neurotic descent into hell, dependent on how one looks at things. As we soon discover, the woman in the prologue had been possessed by a corporate assassin named Tasya, played here by Andrea Riseborough. She’s an agent for a secretive agency who uses an assortment of sci-fi gizmos and wires to invade the bodies of kidnapped people in order to commit devilish deeds for money.

Tasya’s killings are seldom discreet affairs, preferring gratuitously bloody stabbings to her assigned method of shooting. But she’s also one of the finest in her role, which requires her to learn the minutiae of each subject in order to convincingly act like them around their colleagues and loved ones. So who’s going to resent her a little bloodlust?

Possesser displays a great confluence of formal film language and Cronenberg’s grim taste. Take the sequences in which Tasya invades her subjects and the film takes on a glitchy aesthetic, cutting quickly, becoming a mad, deep-red blur. The montage evokes precisely the kind of manic, confused visuals you’d expect from someone with a rod in their brain or a spectre lurking in the shadows of their synapses. Comparisons might be made to, say, Videodrome, but aside from the obvious connecting tissues, this younger Cronenberg’s vision stands on its own two feet.

This is a very dark tale in a grotesque package, and it won't be palatable for all – not that this feels like the intention. But if you relish in the masochistic delights of tense psychological thrills and gross-out body horror, you might just find yourself falling under Possessor's unique control.

Possessor was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020. It will be released in the UK on November 27.

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