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The prepossessing psychic terror of Brandon Cronenberg’s “Possessor”

Neon’s latest cyberpunk thriller hits theaters just in time for Halloween horror.

Neon’s latest cyberpunk thriller hits theaters just in time for Halloween horror.

For nearest screenings, please visit the official site. As of November 3, the film is widely available on VOD services.

Brandon Cronenberg’s latest feature, Possessor, arrives some eight years after his disorienting debut, the biopunk thriller Antiviral (2012), about the mutation of celebrity obsession in the form of designer diseases. That film’s dense technicality, inspired by the likes of sci-fi writers William Gibson and Mary DeMarle, has only grown progressively prescient since the latter half of the 2010s. Today, it almost seems like a forewarning to the plague of current reality in an actual pandemic. The more visually intensive Possessor is marked by a more direct indulgence of the cyberpunk subgenre and all its literary languages. A bulk of perfunctory assessments may use Black Mirror as a denigrating analogy, as it also surfaced in synopses of Antiviral; yet, Brandon Cronenberg was seemingly ahead of the curve, as that 2012 feature predates a bulk of the UK series. Broadly, the writer-director is evidently riffing on technological body horror of twentieth century touchstones like Altered States (1980), Ghost In The Shell (1995), The Matrix (1999), and his father’s eXistenZ (1999) as well as obscure early work like Crimes Of The Future (1970).

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Akin to the Dark Souls games or perhaps a serial pilot, the stylized spectacle of Possessor can be characterized more by its world-building lore than the isolated narrative it relays. Unlike Nolan’s Inception (2010), for instance, Cronenberg has no intention of spoon-feeding audiences doses of the film’s precise techno-logic and setting a moral compass. Rather, Possessor exists in figurative silhouette, its plot etched in a couple early scenes where the mysterious Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is shown hijacking the psyche and body of a young woman to carry out a savagely violent, corporately-motivated assassination. Her reasoning for agreeing to these deeds remains altogether ambiguous, but it has patently wreaked havoc on her own fragile memory about keepsakes as well as her (ex-)husband and son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). However, Tasya’s sense of duty and ecstasy of control prove too alluring. She is soon tasked to inhabit another body, of voyeuristic lackey Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), who’s under the employ of his partner’s narcissistic father, and true target of the hit, John Parse (Sean Bean).

Even in Possessor‘s most laminated, unblemished, and monochromatic sets, cinematographer Karim Hussain’s use of color is always striking, as he juxtaposes the luxurious, washed-out urbanity of Toronto, sometimes in canted angles, with kaleidoscopically vivid splinters of Tasya’s psychic break and premonitions of a self-destructive mind-body duel with Colin. This superimposed duality instills Possessor with incredible tension and intrigue, even amid feelings of predictability undulating throughout the course of events. While it recalls many of the traditions of late twentieth century cyberpunk, when fears of Y2K and hacking loomed, Cronenberg intelligently revives themes of personal data as currency. In the unregulated Facebook era, society is now further enveloped in the cognitive distortions of social media avatars and conspiracy. What Possessor may lack in outright originality, it compensates for in its ability to tap into cerebral, psychedelic horrors of dissociation that feel at once nostalgic, futuristic, and of the moment.

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