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Possessor review - death by virtual reality | reviews, news & interviews

Possessor review - death by virtual reality

Possessor review - death by virtual reality

Startling vision of corporate assassination from director Brandon Cronenberg

Ghostly: Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos

Many have struggled to bring a new slant to the horror genre, but writer-director Brandon Cronenberg has managed it with Possessor, his second full-length feature.

Being the son of David Cronenberg, a pioneer of so-called “body horror”, obviously didn’t hurt, but Brandon is shaping up as more than just a chip off the parental block.

Possessor centres around Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an agent working for a sophisticated assassination corporation. Guided by her handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Tasya hunts her prey by being implanted into the brain of an unsuspecting stooge, which she accomplishes via a scary-looking virtual reality helmet faintly reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Alien. She goes into a trance-like state and effects a mind-takeover of her target, who she then uses as the unwitting hit-person. An opening sequence where a businessman is slaughtered in a hotel bar in a welter of savage knife wounds from a woman called Holly, who’s then ruthlessly cut down by police, sounds the alarm for what we’re likely to encounter next.

Tasya’s next mission will involve tech-entrepreneur John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton), for which she’ll invade the mind of Ava’s boyfriend Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, pictured below). Girder smugly relishes the financial windfall this will entail. However, aside from the mechanics of pay-to-go slaughter, Cronenberg seeks to probe (among other things) into how the increasing power of technology brings ever-expanding possibilities of manipulation and the disintegration of individual identity.

Riseborough’s finely-graded performance (refracted through her ghostly and almost translucent appearance) is a frightening portrait of a personality beginning to come apart at the seams, as she struggles to keep herself separate from the people she and her employers are so grotesquely abusing. The savagery with which she tackles her kills seems to be a red flag for psychological imbalance, which the extensive health-and-safety debriefs she undergoes with Girder evidently are not ameliorating.

This sense of dissolving reality carries over into her personal life, or the wreckage of what it used to be. Preparing to visit her estranged husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland), Tasya practises saying mundane everyday phrases until they sound “normal”, and in the middle of having sex she’s transfixed by visions of blood-spurting stab wounds. Once she’s inside the mind of Colin – itself warped by his day-job which involves casual techno-spying on unwitting people in their homes – the mission proceeds successfully until she tries to extricate herself and return to her physical reality. Suddenly we start getting a startling new slant on the notion of a split personality as invader and invaded wrestle for control.

Cronenberg doesn’t shrink from slapping his audience in the face with concentrated bursts of visceral ghastliness, with eyeballs being messily exploded, heads ripped open and teeth knocked out, but it’s done with a near-subliminal pace and precision that leaves you feeling the aftershock almost before you’re aware of what you’ve just seen. There’s innovative work by director of photography Karim Hussain and production designer Rupert Lazarus, whose use of gels, colour effects and flesh-creeping prosthetics bends reality into unfamiliar shapes. Shots of Toronto’s streets and skyline are made to seem remote and alien by bleached colours and Jim Williams’s eerie soundtrack music. Clearly this isn’t cheery Yuletide viewing, but it’s the work of a cool, meticulous imagination equipped with a formidable technical skill-set.

  • Possessor is on digital platforms from 27 November from Signature Entertainment
This is the work of a cool, meticulous imagination equipped with a formidable technical skill-set

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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