Possessor opens with a glossy murder sequence that seems to be the jumping-off point for a glossy techno-thriller. The killer is revealed to be an assassin who operates by taking over the minds of working-class stiffs who are in a position to be close enough to various VIPs to carry out quick hits. Each unlucky prole chews on a bullet as the possessor controlling their actions blinks out of the equation and returns to her own body. Having established the kind of killer premise that an enterprising show-runner could use as fodder for two, maybe three seasons of a Netflix original, the film gets restless and almost immediately veers into uncharted territory, as the apparently imperturbable killer Tasya Vos (tough, wiry and tender Andrea Riseborough) reveals herself to be distracted by concerns over her disintegrated family life–and perhaps unfit to fight back when one of her meat puppets, a rank-and-file big-tech employee named Colin (Christopher Abbott), manages to rebel against her control.
The result is a horrifying but finely observed thriller about psychology, cyberintelligence, and that old chestnut, the duality of mind and body. It’s part Scanners, part eXistenZ; I’m kind of stunned, honestly, at how well the younger Cronenberg picks up where his father’s career left off. This is next-gen body horror, informed by its cyberpunk forbears but also up-to-the-minute, with newer ideas about identity, guilt, capitalism, gender and consent all in the mix. It’s also blood-and-guts cinema of a kind more rarely seen these days, with ample nudity and gore reminding us of the fragile (and often confusing, or at least disappointing) bags of flesh that surround our souls. And if Cronenberg’s wild, in-camera special effects give the film a hip lo-fi patina, they also bolster its uncanny subjectivities, like the hallucinogenic sex scene where Tasya, occupying Colin’s body as she fucks Colin’s fiancee (Tuppence Middleton), is momentarily seen in her own skin, brandishing an erect penis. What I’m saying is it’s fearless. There’s plenty of shock value here but also a lot to chew on, and your discomfort is the point.