The rotten mushy apple of body horror doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to Brandon Cronenberg. His first film Antiviral – a tale of diseases and infection told with satiric gusto – struck me with a mixture of disgust and uneasy that didn’t quite translate into pleasure but certainly made me anticipate his follow up. In some ways, Possessor inhabits a similar world of corporate malfeance and espionage, but its visceral shocks are on a wholly different level.
Andrea Riseborough plays Voss, a hit woman who gets close to her targets by possessing an essentially innocent bystander and using them to kill before committing suicide as a way of returning to her own body. At least that’s what she’s supposded to do but already with the first kill we see – the stabbing of a business man in a high end nightclub – things are beginning to unravel. To begin with her weapon of choice has become ultraviolent rather than icily professional. Secondly, she is unable to kill herself, preferring, or resorting to, suicide by cop.
The unravelling isn’t confined to the job though. She is separated from her husband and son – for their own safety, whatever that means – though she returns home, drawn to some sort of domestic normality. It’s not going to last long and here we have Cronenberg’s truly captivating inversion. Far from being an assassin weary of her trade, full of remorse and regret, Vos is someone who enjoys it too much. Her choices make the kills wetter and more painful. Even her inability to commit suicide might have more to do with masochism than her inability to control the host. For all the body horror – and boy you get that – it’s this radical rewriting of narrative and commitment to the psychological weirdness of his characters which is the most arrestingly compelling.
Voss’s next job involves possessing a man called Tate (Christopher Abbott) in order to assassinate his would be father-in-law, played by Sean Bean. This is when things – already shaky truly fall apart. The violence and the melting of one identity into an another mix in a droning atmospheric almost trippy sequences, with the immersive power of Panos Cosmatos. The music by Jim Williams adds to the sucking, engulfing dread. Riseborough and Abbott keep everything grounded, even as the gorund slips from under our feet and the inclusion of Jennfier Jason Leigh seems to beg comparison with Cronenberg pére rather than avoid them. There’s so much more to this than just schlock. There are real ideas, and behind the killing there is a barely glimpsed society of alienation and uniformity – the hosts both wear uniforms in their workplaces – which make such a kind of possession and assassination both acceptable and possible.
- Watch Possessor on CHILI