Possessor is set in an alternate 2008, where the science of body possession has become a reality. A microchip can be implanted into someone’s brain and then another individual can connect their own brain up to a machine that allows them to “possess” the first host, controlling their mind and body as if it were their own. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough, Waco, Bloodline) works for a secret organization that has exploited this technology to create an murder-for-hire business. When new contracts come in, Tasya will possess the body of someone close to the target to carry out the assassination. Then she has her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Atypical, Twin Peaks), pull her out of the machine just before she makes the host pull the gun on themselves. To the cops, the assassination will just appear to be a run-of-the-mill murder-suicide.
The years of entering other people’s bodies to commit murder obviously takes its toll on agents like Tasya, and so there is a standard procedure after each mission to ensure that the agent has no lasting memories from their host, or any other side effects, such as a lack of empathy. Tasya has most certainly been affected by her work, and it is starting to show, but she manages to hide this from her handler. She probably should take some time off between missions, but decides to move ahead anyway when the next case arrives. The firm has been hired by a man named Reid Parse (Christopher Jacot, Slasher), who wants his sister Ava (Tuppence Middleton, Sense8) and father John (Sean Bean) eliminated so that he will inherit the family business—a lucrative data mining operation called Zoothoroo. The plan is for Tasya to possess Ava’s boyfriend, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, Catch-22, Girls) to carry out the killings. Tate works in a boring, low-level position at Zoothoroo that Ava’s father set him up with as a way to demean and test him. Tasya will pose as Colin for a few days before causing a public scene, murdering both Ava and her father, before turning the gun on himself. While this all sounds simple enough, things don’t quite go as planned. Tasya’s emotions and memories have started to bleed over from one mission to the next, and this starts to affect her ability to control her host. She soon finds herself in a power struggle with Colin over the control of his body. The lines between reality and this character she is playing start to become blurred, and Tasya is unsure if she is controlling the host or just following along with Colin’s behavior. Meanwhile, Colin fights to regain control of his own actions and figure out what is actually going on—he can’t tell what is reality and what is just someone controlling his mind.
While watching Possessor, I didn’t realize that it had been written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, but in hindsight it should have been obvious. The director’s style is very similar to that of his famous father, David Cronenberg. The film feels very much in the same vein as his creepy body horror films such as The Fly. It is a twisted, heavily-stylized thriller with really over-the-top, disgusting and gory moments. It is easy to guess what makes this release the “Uncut” version of the film—some of the scenes go a bit overboard with the blood and gore, and the film is certainly not for the squeamish.
Possessor has a very interesting aesthetic, combining modern technology with a retro look. In homes, instead of TVs, people have these full display walls to watch the news and weather broadcasts, but at the same time, everyone drives around in older model vehicles. There is a lot of this combining of opposites. The machine used for the possessions looks both retro and futuristic at the same time. The rich, colorful opulence of the Parse mansion and its wild, lively parties is juxtaposed with the dull, drowned out tones of the Zoothoroo workplace, where the drone-line workers somberly queue up en masse, all wearing the same blue polo shirts. While the rich live it up, the workers make their way to their desks, where they will sit wearing video headsets and spending hours doing menial tasks, such as combing through hours of camera footage of regular people in their homes, just noting details about the curtains and blinds in each of their homes. Colin is one of these worker drones, even though Ava is th daughter of the owner of the company—there’s nothing to love about this job, but Colin sticks with it to prove himself to Ava and her father.
I was really intrigued by the film’s concept of body-possessing assassins, and I found the film quite visually interesting, but I was a little disappointed by the direction in which the movie ends up going. It becomes much more of an artsy think piece rather than the action-packed thriller I was hoping for based on the exciting pre-credits sequence. The artsy nature of the film also comes in the way that the struggle for control of Colin’s body is depicted—a bright, saturated red room where Colin and Tasya are literally trying to break free from one another. In one sequence we even see one of them wearing the other’s face as a mask, demonstrating the confusing nature of who is actually in control. The film also has some excessively gory and gruesome scenes, especially whenever it’s time for Tosya to carry out any of her assassinations—she often selects the most bloody and drawn out method possible. It is here that the film goes whole hog into the body horror genre, with body pieces being lopped off or popped out, and buckets of blood—and this feels even more amplified thanks to this being the Uncut edition of the film. This is certainly not the feel-good movie of the year, and while it may not have been the ending I was looking for, the film does finish with quite the shocking, memorable and thought-provoking turn of events.
Well Go’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds great. This is a very visually interesting film, and the picture remains clean and detailed throughout, even in those over-saturated, bright red, blue or yellow scenes. The audio track provides clear dialogue and makes great use of the surround channel to make the film feel more immersive, such as the music and sounds during a dinner party, or the muffled sounds when Colin is disoriented and confused and trying to regain control of his body. The disc is packed in a standard HD keepcase with a cardboard slipcover that matches the case insert artwork. Like other Well Go releases, there is no digital copy included. However, the disc contains 3 deleted scenes as well as nearly 40 minutes of interviews with the cast and filmmakers. These provide a fascinating look into the making of the film, and the filmmakers’ extensive use of practical visual effects. While watching the film I had no idea that all the effects were done practically—from the unique lighting elements, to those overly-gory sequences, and even a pair of scenes where things are floating in the air (apparently thanks to sound!). These features made me appreciate the film on another level and made me interested to check it out a second time.
- 1080p / Widescreen 1.78:1
- Audio: English DTS-HDMA 5.1, English Stereo
- Subtitles: English SDH
Bonus material plays back-to-back.
- Deleted Scenes
- Panic Attack (3:46)
Tasya has a panic attack in her hotel room and talks to the doctor about her “episode”.
- Reid’s in the Pool (3:02)
Tasya (as Colin) is by the pool talking to Girder when she realizes that Ava’s brother Reid, who took out the contract, asks her how the whole possession thing works, and if she enjoyed being in a man’s body.
- Wake Up and Count (1:25)
Vos wakes up in Colin’s body, and Girder performs a sync check.
- Panic Attack (3:46)
- Behind the Scenes
- A Heightened World (10:31)
The cast and filmmakers talk about creating the look of the heightened world of the film with its projection screens and old cars, filming in the mansion, and the use of live practical effects and lighting tricks. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with production designer Rupert Lazarus, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, cinematographer Karim Hussain, special makeup designer Dan Martin, and stars Christopher Abbott (“Colin Tate”), Andrea Riseborough (“Tasya Vos”) & Tuppence Middleton (“Ava Parse”).
- Identity Crisis (14:43)
The cast and filmmakers talk about the themes of identity in the story, casting the characters, mixing up the genders, the challenges of playing characters within characters and two actors sharing the same role, the use of different camera styles to show Vos’ psychological state, and more. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with cinematographer Karim Hussain, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, and stars Tuppence Middleton, Christopher Abbott, Andrea Riseborough & Sean Bean (“John Parse”).
- The Joy of Practical (12:12)
The filmmakers talk about the film’s extensive use of practical effects, the creative and innovative methods used to film these scenes, the excessive blood and gore, and more. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with special makeup designer Dan Martin, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, and cinematographer Karim Hussain.
- A Heightened World (10:31)
- Green Band Trailer (1:21)
- Red Band Trailer (1:21)
- Uncut Trailer (2:15)
Possessor is an interesting film, that will certainly appeal to David Cronenberg fans—his son’s work proves that the apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree in this directorial family! The movie starts off with a bang, a very interesting premise and a unique aesthetic. The two lead actors do a nice job of playing this character within a character and showing how both are struggling to maintain control of not only their shared mind and body, but also of reality itself. The disc looks and sounds great and includes some very fascinating bonus material. The film is quite bloody and gory, so it’s not for the squeamish, but certainly worth a look if you’re looking for a different kind of thriller that’s more on the artsy side.