She's got a lot on her mind.
She's got a lot on her mind. NEON
A strange blend of horror with science fiction, Possessor is a picturesque and nightmarish meditation on violence from Brandon Cronenberg. Yes, that Cronenberg.

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It's evident in his work that Brandon is the son of iconic director David Cronenberg. But while there are some parallels where the son takes after the father, he's still made a film all his own.

Possessor, or Possessor Uncut as some edgier marketing has called it, is a body snatcher story unlike any before it.

It follows an agent in the not too distant future, whose job is to take over other people’s bodies and subsequently commit assassinations in disguise, at the behest of wealthy clients.

This agent, Tasya Vos, is played by a haunting Andrea Riseborough, recently memorable for her knockout, albeit brief, role in 2018’s Mandy. Riseborough carries the film, inhabiting the character's damaged psyche with a profound sensibility.

Some have described the film as "body horror," though I find it somewhat reductive. The film is more focused on the psychological impacts of violence and its lasting impact on people. It's more than gore—though there's plenty of that.

For Vos, this damage manifests itself in increasingly troubling ways. She struggles to maintain her grip on reality as she tries to “shed” the bodies and perspectives of the people she inhabits.

The most recent target giving her trouble is Colin Tate, played by Christopher Abbott of the devastating 2017 horror It Comes at Night, a man set to be the fall guy in a murderous corporate takeover.

While Cronenberg's last film, Antiviral, wasn't terrible, the growth here is refreshing. Nearly eight years later, Cronenberg's assured handle on chaotic visuals is what elevates Possessor, even when the story gets muddled.

In particular, the effects in the sequence where Vos "becomes" Tate give the stunning appearance of a body evaporating and then reforming. Other sequences see Vos slipping further into the abyss, effectively using gore and the film's environment to create a surreal, scary atmosphere.

When it comes to its musical score, the film looks to the fantastic Jim Williams, whose work in 2017's Raw and 2018's Beast still stands out. In Possessor, the score builds from simple piano notes to an overpowering droning.

My only hangups are in the story's development. The scenes sort of stumble into each other, building to a conclusion that seems lackluster. That said, I did watch it a second time, and those hangups bothered me a little bit less. Many lines repeat themselves in strange patterns. Certain visuals offer eerie foreshadowing. I keep thinking about one bleeding neck wound in particular.

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However, the film's most significant cathartic moment comes from a line that is only said once. After a possession, Vos is taken through a memory quiz to see if she remembers her true self. She's shown items and must identify them. One is a butterfly that she says she "killed and mounted" as a child, but she still feels persistent guilt around the memory.

Seeing Vos lose that sense of guilt around causing pain is where Possessor has its strongest throughline. It's her descent into cold detachment that shows the film has more on its mind.

You can stream Possessor on iTunes, Vudu, and other streaming platforms and at The Grand Cinema’s Tacoma Film Festival Weird Elephant screening on November 14.

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