Nov 20, 2020 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Brandon Cronenberg’s new techno-thriller, “Possessor,” is horrific, bleak, and remorseless. Cronenberg shows us a world in which tech giants are more dominant than ever, grappling with the current grim trajectory of our relationship with monolithic tech corporations.
The film resembles many of its predecessors, some of these being “Videodrome” (1983) — written and directed by Brandon’s father, David Cronenberg — Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), and the Wachowski’s “The Matrix” (1999). “Possessor” sits comfortably among these sci-fi greats. However, you, the audience, will not sit comfortably watching this movie, as its violence and gore are shocking even to fans of David Cronenberg’s work.
Set in an alternate Toronto in 2008, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) works as a corporate mercenary for a secretive company that specializes in brain-implant technology. After being hooked up to a machine (that’s really all the explanation we get, but also all we need), Tasya can hijack the body of a subject, suppressing the host’s consciousness and controlling their body as her own.
This Descartian-adjacent process of separating the ghost from the shell appears to be the perfect cover for an assassination operation. Their next target? John Parse (played by Sean Bean), the CEO of a privacy-breaching data-mining corporation. In order to get to him, Tasya takes over the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of Parse’s daughter (Tuppence Middleton).
But Colin proves to be an unwilling host for Tasya’s control, resulting in a psychic battle of wills and an inconvenient amount of collateral damage – inconvenient not due to the loss of life, but only due to the loss of corporate integrity.
Cronenberg visually manifests this mental warfare with stunning and surreal sequences, portraying the two characters duking it out in the realm of their now-blended consciousness. “Possessor” is detailed and established within the horrors of our current reality, and shows how such horrors might look with the brightness turned up to illuminate the sickening tendencies of real-life tech.
While the dystopia we may be headed for probably won’t have access to soul-switching technology, we currently live in a privacy free world in which “Every Breath You Take” by The Police is eternally on blast in the Google and Facebook headquarters.
The world of “Possessor” is a world in which corporate surveillance is constant, with workers of Parse’s company watching the cameras within Alexa-esque devices to spy on each consumer and flipping through surveillance feeds to track buying habits of countless individuals. People are reduced to data points in “Possessor,” an uncomfortable similarity to our own corporate reality of 2020.
If facing the increasing omnipotence of Big Tech didn’t make you squirm enough, you’ll want to be wary of the physical violence and gore of “Possessor,” as Cronenberg does not hold back with imagery that challenges the strength of one’s stomach. Keep in mind that this is the son of the guy who basically invented the body-horror genre; Brandon Cronenberg continues to push the boundaries of the genre his father established. I wish I could recommend seeing this in the theater (and not on Amazon Video or iTunes), but you’ll have to head to your favorite place to rent movies online in order to watch this film.