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Possessor (18) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Brandon Cronenberg, Canada, 2020, 103 mins

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Gabrielle Graham, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Review by Colin Dibben

A well-paced and thoughtful sci fi thriller with a melancholic disposition and some gory violence.

Tasya (Riseborough) is an assassin who ‘body-jacks’ patsies to get to her targets. Colleagues at her hi-tech brain implants company do the pre-assassination dirty work; kidnapping and surgically altering the brains of the dupes. Then Tasya, lying passive in a lab, physically jacks into the patsy’s mind and takes over their body.

The money is good but Tasya wants out, partly because of the risk of damage to her own mind during a body-jack. But there’s one last job to do: assassinate the CEO of a competitor company, using his daughter’s loser lover, Colin (Abbott).

If you have read any contemporary sci-fi in the last 35 years, you’ll be familiar with the fictional technology behind Possessor. You’ll even be familiar with the pitfalls and dangers that Tasya faces.

But Possessor finds emotionally substantial ways to focus on the nightmare of identity that this tech entails.

This is in part due to the quality of Riseborough and Abbott’s acting. Riseborough’s PTSD ice queen comes across like Tilda Swinton with hidden feelings; Abbott’s sweaty panic as he sets about making things wrong then right again is even better.

The accompanying cast are also good: Sean Bean steals scenes as an A1 vindictive arsehole; Tuppence Middleton gets you feeling sympathy for her spoiled daddy’s girl, as does Gabrielle Graham for her body-jack; Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the corporate autist well.

Moreover, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg’s approach to his shots and sequences has a languor that is almost operatic. Minimalist opera, but opera nonetheless.

There’s also a nice retro feel to the nightmare sequences – digitised versions of blurring video images, I’m guessing – all of them more David Lynch than papa David Cronenberg.

Cronenberg even shies away from the expected finale: the ambivalence of the outcome says more about his characters than about the omnipotence of techno-capital.

He doesn’t however, shy away from violence. The languor-to-violence ratio is just right for me; but the violence, when it comes, is frenzied and brutal.

Possessor is a sci-fi thriller of mood rather than ideas or spectacle. That makes it an interesting watch whether you are a cyberpunk fan or not.

Possessor is out on HD digital on 1 February and on Blu-ray and DVD from 8 February.