The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Corporate espionage (but not as we know it) and on-brand body horror (this is a Cronenberg picture, let’s not forget) merge in the most inventive fashion in Possessor, a sci-fi/thriller experiment from Brandon Cronenberg (son of David, the legendary auteur of such titles as The Fly, Crash, and Eastern Promises) that announces its confronting intentions within the captivating opening minutes. Cronenberg’s sophomore project (the follow up to 2012’s Antiviral) has faith in the intelligence of its audience and therefore doesn’t over-do it on establishing certain set-ups, allowing our understanding of the sci-fi genre to piece together proceedings, which in turn only envelops us more in the dark, twisted universe he has created where one’s own possession of their functions isn’t as free as they appear.
As mentioned, Cronenberg doesn’t indulge in exposition, and whilst in some narratives that could prove a hinderance, for Possessor it’s to its own benefit as he’s aware of some of the base familiarities his story holds. There’s a confidence to his handling of the material that helps elevate it above the accustomed plot points, creating deeply woven characters in the process that assist in setting this film apart from its contemporaries. This is just as confronting visually as it is mentally, with Cronenberg’s intricate attention to detail evident throughout every frame.
Though the subject of the shadowy dealings of an organisation is hardly new narrative fodder, nor how they emotionally manipulate their staff, Cronenberg twists this just so by adopting a futuristic temperament where agents are implemented into the psyche of other beings, controlling them in a secluded chamber through a form of mental body-hopping. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is the organisation’s go-to agent, though the physical and emotional strain these missions have on her appear to be increasing in their intensity as she has to be reminded of who she is every time she’s “pulled out” of her specific avatar. Tasya’s next mission - where she’s to inhabit the mind of Christopher Abbott’s Colin and plan a killing spree in order for a CEO’s offspring to inherit a powerful datamining company - proves to be her most challenging as the struggle in controlling her new body becomes greater, leading to an uncertainty that could jeopardise both the mission and Tasya’s employers.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
In a film rife with immoral characters, it’s a testament to both Cronenberg’s handling and the sublime talent on hand that we are wholly invested in their respective plights. Andrea Riseborough is the film’s beating heart - even if she isn’t always physically present - tapping into an emotional depth that is consistently devastating as she has to come to terms with her own existence time and time again; it’s particularly heartbreaking to watch her recite dialogue from her own life in order for her family to believe that she’s of sound mind. Christopher Abbott is equally as effective in a difficult role as he essentially battles himself, trying to overcome a force he’s unaware of. And then there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh in a quiet, though no less captivating role as Tasya’s superior, adopting a motherly mentality to cradle her broken subject back to health whilst maintaining a sense of dangerous seniority that suggests she isn’t above expelling her finest agent.
... True Horror Lies Within Its Examination Of Mental Autonomy
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Understandably, Cronenberg’s penchant for unpleasant, wince-inducing horror effects is on full display in Possessor. Whilst never lingering longer than it needs to, it’s a gut-punch when he unleashes his grotesque imagination on to the screen. Though never one to shy away from bloody carnage, it’s perhaps the metaphorical imagery of Christopher Abbott wearing a face mask that resembles Andrea Riseborough that proves the most unnervingly effective.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Creating an immersive experience for all the senses, Possessor’s haunting, electronica-influenced score perfectly balances the unnerving imagery created throughout.
One of the most fascinating films I have experienced as of late, and not just relegated within the horror genre, Possessor is a unique and detailed project from a filmmaker who is quickly announcing himself as the next great creative mind. As brutal as the film is from a violence standpoint, Possessor’s true horror lies within its examination of mental autonomy and the damaging effects the loss of such free-will can create.
NEON will release POSSESSOR: UNCUT in theaters - October 2nd, 2020