Humans always feel the need to be in control. It’s this drive for control that propelled technology so far, and now it seems to have gone full circle. Instead of being in control of everything, we now look for how much can we automate. We no longer want to drive our cars, or get our own groceries, or in some cases, not even live in reality. VR gaming is slowly making its way into the present, and it may only be a matter of time before Ready Player One becomes an ominous premonition of the modern era. With Brandon Cronenberg’s film, Possessor, it poses the idea that control is a concept that is truly fleeting to humans, and to have control over one’s life can only be very loosely defined.
Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, a clearly gifted assassin. However, in this future, much more disturbing methods are taken to ensure successful elimination. Through some scientific process and kidnapping that largely goes unexplained, Tasya is able to possess others to eliminate her targets, for lack of a better word. And the fact that this film hovers so much in the dark is what allows it to truly shine. Just as Tasya’s son controls his robotic doll through a series of code typed into his tablet, Tasya is able to manipulate others to her will, or on a larger scale, the will of her boss. It’s an unexplained loss of control shrouded in the tragedy of random innocent lives being commanded to commit atrocities.
Take for example the latest assignment for Tasya. She must take control of Colin Tate, played by Christopher Abbott who gives an absolutely marvelous performance, and murder his own girlfriend, Ava, and someday father-in-law. Prior to his possession, all we see of Colin and Ava is a brief moment of them discussing dinner, and for the most part, they seem happy. That’s about it, making the course of events that much more damning and tragic. Here are random people around the world, being controlled by unknown entities in the name of corporate greed and espionage. And this is just the basic driving force of the film. Where Possessor truly separates itself is in its moments of surreal physical, and mental, experiences, as well as its layered commentary on invasions of privacy, the façade of control, and what truly constitutes free will.
To a certain extent, this is a film that keeps its audience at bay the entire time, if only to allow each individual to latch onto a specific element of this undefined, yet oddly familiar, world that is presented. Constantly we see situations fall out of hand and all control being lost, from something as nonchalant as a guest not leaving a dinner party, to more serious notions of violence. Colin works for a data mining company, peeking into the lives of strangers through cameras in random homes. Even when we think we are in control of our lives, Cronenberg seems to think that there are always larger forces at play. There’s one sequence in the film that institutes prosthetics masterfully in claiming the human body is simply a vessel. Nothing more, nothing less, and it’s an inherently terrifying concept, especially when paired with the imagery Cronenberg presents.
This film is absolutely fantastic because it doesn’t seem to display horrific elements purely for shock. On the contrary, it feels as if the larger themes of the film are the true horrors, not just of the fictional world shown, but the reality we are watching them in. When watching a film, some may not be scared due to the knowledge that a screen separates them from the monster. But what happens when there’s no monster, and instead, it’s simply the world around us? When the lines between fiction and reality are blurred is when this film is operating at its most horrific, and Cronenberg seems acutely aware of this. With some fantastic use of prosthetics, editing that is deeply unsettling, and a brilliant sci-fi concept turned on its head, the scariest part of Possessor is the implications it has regarding the modern world.
Neon Films will be releasing Possessor in select theaters on October 2nd.