I’ve always had an interest in movies that (in a semi realistic way) attempt to tackle our current and future relationship with technology. It’s a balancing act, you want to convey the dangers, but also avoid coming across as an old man yelling at a cloud. As a society, most people have some idea of where technology could go, we’re in an interesting middle period where massive leaps of science seem to happen constantly, but the robot-led dystopian future hasn’t happened (yet). We can already see how tech is used, and it’s implicitly (and explicitly) weaponised against us by corporations. These thoughts are ones I seem to share with Brandon Cronenberg, as it has become a through line between his debut Antiviral and now Possessor.
In a world and time not too dissimilar to our own, utilising a brain-implant technology, Vos (Andrea Riseborough) takes control of other people’s bodies to execute high profile targets. While being groomed for an upcoming promotion, and struggling with her home life, she is assigned a new high profile mission. She loses herself in the role of Colin (Christopher Abbott) son-in-law of a high powered businessman (Sean Bean), with the objective of eliminating his in-law, his wife, and then himself while making it believable enough not to arise suspicion. All so the power of the family bussiness falls in the desired hands.
From its shocking opening scene Possessor establishes itself expertly. Without giving too much away, we get given a glimpse into how a possession assassination would happen, showing the end product without the process, then working back. This along another scene horrific section involving a mask, which being featured in a lot of the films advertising solidify the films originality, and Cronenberg’s flair for visual style. The man knows how to put together a scene. The acting here should also be commended, as Abbott nails one of my personal favourite acting scenarios; playing a character who plays another character. Going two levels deep in a role is always an impressive feat.
Despite it being very well put together, with the occasional shocker of a scene, my enjoyment of the film ends there. Possessor is a film puts itself in weird position where it strips back the story for the sake of general tone, but on some level still tries to act as a commentary. The sparseness of the story ends up leaving the viewer with long stretches of time where you’re just waiting for anything to happen. This is all the while struggling to really say anything aside from a broad point about corporations, and how mass consumer technology works. Then points a finger at something before exploding in sporadic bursts of violence. The issues I have with this film also align with ones I had with Antiviral, where it comes across as though Cronenberg as a writer has come up with an concept he wants to use to kick off a film, but doesn’t really know how to fully realise it.
There’s a very real struggle today with the relationship between how we use technology and identity, theres no consesnus on how we should be interacting with the virual vs reality. Cronenberg, describes it saying “people have those moments where either they feel like they need to play a character to present themselves” – I’m sure many can admit to presenting themselves differently online compared to their real life for example. I think Possessor shoots for a similar target as something like Black Mirror trying to address this. They both build up a universe for a narrative that features an exaggerated version of technology that exists now. The difference is that Black Mirror uses this to tell a human story around this exaggeration, where Possessor doesn’t. It builds the world, distinguishes its look, but struggles to take it further than that.
(It’s maybe worth noting, that the version of the film I ended up watching wasn’t in the best of quality, and with a very visual film, your results may vary. But my own curiosity of how it would look under better conditions is not enough to justify a re-watch.)
Possessor is on digital platforms 27 November from Signature Entertainment