Review: Possessor

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, following an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Rosif Sutherland and Gabrielle Graham.

It makes it all too clear very quickly that this film isn’t messing around, it has zero interest in being subtle or understated, it’s fast and furiously diving into gruesome territory and it’s a path that it follows until the very second the credits roll. Watching Cronenberg’s style with this film certainly brings to the mind the old adage: like father, like son because it’s entirely intended to make you uncomfortable and to be needlessly graphic, which will delight a certain selection of viewers but for others, it will feel unnecessary. Intense gore and violence can be incredibly effective if used the right way but Cronenberg simply goes for it and throws it in your face repeatedly and overtly. That violence is really the source of its horror edge as the story itself isn’t developed well enough to hold a tangible suspense or tension.

It’s not the only problem that the writing has, there’s a lot of over-simplified aspects to both its concept and progression. There are simply a lot of elements that don’t feel sufficiently fleshed out, for instance they can take over someone’s consciousness and control them but they haven’t come up with a way to learn about them other than reading a file and briefly studying their behaviour for a couple of days? It isn’t believable that they could convincingly act as another person, while knowing that little about them. Its pace is also very inconsistent and doesn’t allow for the story to move smoothly, it builds up to moments but then rushes through them, which is unsatisfying to watch. While there is a story to follow, it doesn’t provide a clear destination, it’s bringing you along for a very messy journey with no real idea of where you’re going or a solid reason for you to be invested in it. Due to it being so openly graphic, violent and not holding anything back, it prevents itself from building tension. It’s trying too hard to be flashy, quite literally at times, and admittedly there is a very stylish nature to its cinematography and use of colour but the direction is too messy and heavy-handed to make the most of that.

The strongest thing that is working for this film is its acting, sadly Andrea Riseborough doesn’t actually spend that much time on screen here as most of the time her character is in the body of Christopher Abbott’s Colin but the time she does is haunting and broken. They make her even more affecting with the make-up and hair work, adding blonde hair to an extra pale pallor is immediately discomforting and plays well into the fragmented persona of her character. Abbott is a surprising presence here, he gives a forceful and crazed performance, that leaves everything out there and genuinely must have been exhausting work for the amount of intense energy he puts into the role.

Possessor is graphic, gruesome and uncomfortable, the apple clearly has not fallen far from the tree with Cronenberg’s visual work but the story is irredeemably lacking. It falls short in so many ways that it makes all the violence and gore feel entirely unnecessary, that brutality is the entire experience of the film, it doesn’t at all bring through that slick, deceptive, complicated story that you might be expecting. The performances, particularly by Riseborough and Abbott, are the strongest element that the film has to offer and they bring an incredible commitment to their roles but it’s not enough to make it work. It’s a film that’s purely going for shock and style over substance, so if you’re a fan of incredibly violent film then this is for you but if not, maybe give it a miss.

Verdict: ✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival
Out now on Digital – Coming to DVD & Blu-ray 8th February

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