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Review: Possessor – “Savage and cerebral sci-fi horror”

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg (Antiviral), Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Christopher Abbott (It Comes at Night), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Tuppence Middleton (Disappearance at Clifton Hill) and Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring).

Tasya Vos (Riseborough) is a brain-jacking assassin in a near future where the tech exists to enable you to plug into someone else’s mind and control their body. Vos’ handler, Girder (Jason Leigh), tasks Vos with a hit on the data mining billionaire John Parse (Bean), and she is to take over the body of Colin Tate (Abbott) – who is going out with Parse’s daughter Ava (Middleton) – to do so.

Vos is a pro but has recently been having second thoughts and experiencing glitching during mind possessions that she has been keeping a secret. During this latest mission, she starts to lose control of Colin’s body and a battle between the minds of the host and the invader for control begins.

Shot with a clinical style typical of both generations of Cronenbergs, Possessor has a simple and clean look that coupled with the moments of extreme gory violence make them all the more shocking. Fights and assassinations in Possessor are brutal and ferocious and Brandon Cronenberg does not shy or cut away from any of it, lingering on extended repeated stabbings and beatings and almost challenging you to look away first.

Riseborough is excellent and expertly conveys the accumulated traumas of a mind-purloining life-ender more fond of skewering and bludgeoning than of simply shooting, as well as making us completely believe in the imaginary technology essential to the story from the very beginning. The pain in her eyes when she remembers certain things and can’t others, and the practising of family interactions to appear normal for their benefit, not hers, are heartbreaking and her character only gets richer and more sympathetic as we learn more about her.

Abbot has an extremely difficult job in playing three parts: his base character, Vos’ imitation of his character and Vos, but that we always know which he is straight away is very impressive. This battle for and over self and Abbot’s exquisite portrayal gives Tate just as much appeal to us as Vos, setting up a brilliant, no-holds-barred, all-in endgame.

Elsewhere, Jason-Leigh is as good as ever, making you wish she would be cast in everything, Sean Bean gets to play a horrible piece of work and is clearly loving it, while Middleton’s part is unfortunately rather forgettable – there for story progression and plot mechanics, rather than actually having anything interesting to do or say herself.

That the story is never quite as complex as you expect and feels like it is lacking a twist is the only con in this savage and cerebral sci-fi horror with wonderful performances and superb hard-to-watch effects.

Possessor is released digitally on the 27th of November.

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