‘Possessor’ is a horrific tale of technological intrusion

February 12, 2021

“Possessor” directed by Brandon Cronenberg is ostentatious, confusing and wholly unique in its artistic vision. This surrealist dramatic horror may be memorable and thought-provoking, but that does not excuse the vague, and at times boring, plot this movie is built upon. The extreme gore and beautifully constructed transitional sequences throughout this film partially make up for the lack of tonal consistency or clear themes within the storyline. The beauty of “Possessor” cannot be downplayed, but it still should not be hailed as any sort of masterclass in horror. 

Simply put, this movie is about the top employee at a company that is paid to assassinate people in very discreet ways. Specifically, the human employee possesses a targeted human host, through vague scientific methods, and forces that host to carry out the assassination and then shoot themself. The principal character, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), is mentally struggling, both in her intense work life as a possessor and at home, in connecting with her ex-husband and son. The movie follows Tasya in her chaotic, death-filled journey of self-actualization. 

The themes in this movie are rather confusing. After watching it twice, I still feel there are many aspects of the film I did not fully grasp. And I think a lot of this comes from the film’s attempts to tackle too many topics. There were allusions to vaping, privacy, wealth disparities, toxic friendships and other contentious modern-day discussions, but none of them tied together and none of them went anywhere. 

The one clear theme throughout the movie was its critique of modern technology, which in itself is quite a broad topic. The film explores this theme thoroughly, but its anti-technology rhetoric is blunt and unoriginal. An example of this theme is seen in Tasya’s primary host, Colin’s (Christopher Abbott), job. He works alongside hundreds of employees secretly looking through computer cameras to observe strangers’ homes. 

What we see of Colin’s job is his random observation of different cameras. He secretly observes a young woman, a child, and people having sex, all for the purpose of taking a census on window blinds. There are a dozen movies and television episodes solely about this exact topic, of using built-in cameras to stalk people covertly. To make it a side detail in a fictional movie to emphasize a lack of privacy feels underdeveloped and lazy. Cinematically, “Possessor” may have many unique aspects, but it does not tackle technology in a way that separates the film from an average episode of “Black Mirror.”

Cinematically this movie demonstrates originality and inventiveness, successfully creating a uniquely eerie atmosphere. While it has clear influences, including the director’s father, David Cronenberg, “Possessor” is far from a cookiecutter horror. Throughout the entire film, it is never clear what exactly is going on. Depending on the viewer, this can be seen as a pro or a con. I believe the ambiguity of the storyline was, for the most part, done elegantly and therefore added to the atmosphere. The world is never clearly laid out for us. We have no context for Tasya’s company or the first murder that takes place; all we ever really know is what is currently being shown to us. “Possessor” dedicates itself to telling the story of the humans within a world as opposed to building out the world through the lens of the humans within it. 

On top of the interesting worldbuilding, the feature that makes this movie really stand out, and the primary reason for its acclaim, is the cinematography, more specifically its usage of light, color and shifting perspectives to enhance the story. The dramatic yellows and oranges that dominate the scenes when Tasya enters a host’s body, or the deep blue that colors the shifting mindsets of Tasya and Colin within Colin’s body make those scenes memorable and stunning.

“Possessor” is filled with moments where the audience is pulled into the story and the imagery on screen is exciting, but these moments are separated by rather intense lulls. It was not boring so much as it was tedious. In between moments of authentic gore or graphic sex are slow conversations between characters I do not care about. Random characters, most often friends of the host body, are introduced and provide awkward attempts at humor or glimpses into mundanity that do a disservice to the rest of the movie. A slightly tense get-together among friends occurs moments after a major problem is introduced, disrupting the flow of the film and forcing the audience to care about a random situation when they have yet to process a major plot point. The reason this movie never properly bored me was because of how thrilling and downright disturbing a few segments were. The five or six moments of gore are both excessive and artful with the result of incredible realism. They are powerful and necessary and Cronenberg shows slightly more detail in his kills than the majority of horror directors, all to the benefit of the movie as a whole. 

This movie entertained and impressed me but ultimately needed polishing. Its most disturbing beats are on par with “Hereditary” and “Ichi the Killer” but as a whole, it is not a movie I plan to revisit. Images of technological intrusion were frightening in the context of the movie but do not inspire real-world contemplation. Character arcs were interesting to piece together but none stuck out as particularly memorable. “Possessor” is a film beautifully shot and edited that, upon multiple viewings, lacks the substance to be considered a truly great film. 

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