Visually arresting and steeped in bloody chills, Possessor does something that many horror movies fail to accomplish. From the start, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg presents us with a strange, forbidding world. There's hardly a moment of Possessor that doesn't sustain its weird, unsettling mood. Don't look for guideposts.
(In case you haven’t already guessed, Brandon's father is David Cronenberg, no slouch when it comes to brainy horror.)
Although Possessor deals with recognizable themes -- identity, privacy, and the link between sex and violence -- it seldom feels anything less than an expression of high artifice.
Take that as a tribute to Cronenberg's skill: Steeped in disorientation, his movie surrounds us like a creepy embrace -- albeit one that's often followed by a piercing knife to the jugular.
Of course, there's a story. Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, a woman with a difficult job. Tasya works for Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), proprietor of an odd business. Girder projects Tasya into other people's bodies so that she can carry out assassinations.
To return from an assignment, Tasya must shoot herself. Once her host body dies, she'll wake up gasping in the room where Girder launches all this body invading.
I know it sounds crazy, but Cronenberg plays things straight, employing arty effects to show us how these transformations look.
The main part of the story begins when Tasya is ordered to enter the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a man with an unsavory occupation. Colin spies on others, using a virtual-reality device that relies on cameras planted in places where cameras shouldn't be.
The company for which Colin works is run by an arrogant businessman (Sean Bean): Colin is engaged to the man's daughter (Tuppence Middleton).
Tasya has three days to use Colin's body to kill both father and daughter, off himself, and return home.
Thankfully, Cronenberg doesn't overdo the gender confusion that becomes available to him when Tasya occupies a man's body. He wisely leaves it to us to wonder what she's feeling.
Not surprisingly, things go wrong. Tasya already has shown signs of cracking under the strain of her work. She's separated from her husband (Rossif Sutherland) who has taken over custody of their young son (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot).
No fair telling more about a plot that takes time revealing itself, sometimes opts for atmosphere over clarity. Know, too, that Cronenberg spills plenty of plasma in the movie's highly stylized displays of violence.
Among other things, Cronenberg seems interested in the mind-warping powers inherent in Tasya's job. Tasya must learn to act out the various roles she plays and we're always aware that when we're looking at Colin, Tasya is pulling the strings.
That's where I'll leave it, except to say that the movie raises an intriguing question about the perils of performance. If a self becomes too lost, can it ever be recovered?