Possessor Blu-ray Review
Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature film begins with a woman studying herself in the mirror, plugging a cable into a wound in her scalp, and running through a series of facial expressions. She heads down to the hotel bar, brutally stabs a man to death before completing suicide by police. That’s when Vos (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up from the ordeal and we get our first glimpse of what’s really going on.
Without the context, this introductory scene puts its horrifying violence front and centre, grounded in gruesome realism without sacrificing the beautiful vibrant colours of the scene. There’s no glamour to the violence, but we soon find that the world isn’t much kinder in the cold corporate spaces where Vos plugs in to take control of an unwitting puppet assassin for another high-paying client. Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh)’s attentive manager only underlines the inhumanity of Vos’ profession, as she seeks to “cultivate her special quality”, while Vos' domestic life is even more stifling.
Away from the trauma of killing and dying in the body of a stranger, Vos is an anxious mess. She repeats mundane phrases, practising how to speak to her partner and child as if it’s even more of a strenuous job. It’s here that the mind-bending horror starts to make its intentions clear, with the mental toll of possessing other bodies blurring the edges of Vos' identity, thoughts and feelings. When her latest host, Christopher Abbott’s Colin, is introduced, these doubts and fears are brought to a head.
The sparsely-used but incredible special effects (all done in-camera) are riveting, with visuals of waxwork bodies melting and reforming in psychic space. However, it’s the performances that sell Vos' mental turmoil. Riseborough’s layered performance is powerful, complemented greatly by Abbott, who draws you into his demanding multi-faceted role. What begins as body horror starts to transform into a social horror as Vos attempts to torpedo her targets' lives, fabricating tragedy in order to cover her tracks and leave people none the wiser. The cast is rounded out by dependable performances from Tuppence Middleton, who injects life into otherwise distancing scenes in Colin's personal life, and Sean Bean, who is strikingly loathsome as her ruthless magnate father.
Cronenberg’s confident camerawork and precise filmmaking bring you into these interior worlds, making you care about the personal lives of people who are ultimately disposable tools to fulfil the terms of a violent contract. However, the often-maudlin tone and glacial pace won’t be for everyone. As it enters its second half the film slows down dramatically, and its dwelling on the cruelty and violence makes for an uncomfortable watch. Yet this crawling pace does serve to involve you in the minutiae of Vos' traumatic profession, and the brutality is always portrayed with empathy rather than glee, serving to create a memorable psychological horror that explores its premise to the deepest levels.
Deleted Scenes: The 8 minutes of deleted scenes is surprisingly robust, mostly bringing more context to the story. Whether its a virtual therapy session, another synchronisation test with Girder and Vos, or a confrontation with a client not seen in the original cut, they provide some clearer insight into the mechanics of the brain-implant technology and how it affects the hosts.
A Heightened World: The Look of Possessor: This 10-minute feature spends time delving into the production design and world-building that went into creating the alternate 2008 of the film. With plenty of insight from the director and crew, it gives some fascinating details that you'd have otherwise missed, as well as detailing some stunning practical effects - including using sound waves to levitate Styrofoam or to freeze water mid-flow.
Identity Crisis: Bringing Possessor to Life: Focusing more on the acting process, this 14-minute feature speaks mostly to the intense character work done on set with Cronenberg, Abbott and Riseborough, as well as how the creators chose to explore the themes of the film with their craft.
The Joy of Practical: The Effects of Possessor: In what is the most enlightening feature, these 12 minutes are mostly focused on Dan Martin's prosthetics and other effects, including an astoundingly realistic animated puppet of Sean Bean, wax melting and more. A must-watch for any fans of practical effects wanting to see how they pulled it off.
Short Film by Brandon Cronenberg: Also included is the director's 2019 short, Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You. As well as serving as an experiment in many of the effects that would be seen developed further in Possessor, this short is terrifying in its own right.
Possessor is available to own on Blu-ray now.