Tasya Vos works for the corporate equivalent of brain controlling parasites, like the exotic “zombie ant” fungus. She’s the fungus, or in this case, an assassin who commits hits while controlling the body of an unwitting host. She is a lethal legend among the limited numbers aware of her company’s true specialty, but her next assignment will involve unexpected complications in Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, which screens during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
The process is pretty simple—and sinister. Through some kind of cyber-punky procedure, Vos’s consciousness is inserted into the abducted host. She establishes a pattern of suspicious behavior over a few days, before killing her target. Then she blows the host’s brains out just as her handlers extract her. We can see pretty clearly from the opening hit how the process is supposed to work. It is also pretty easy to see Vos is increasingly troubled by lingering memories and flashbacks, even though she manages to conceal it from her employer, Girder.
She really should have more down time between possessions, but she agrees to do a priority rush job with little rest. Her next target will be John Parse, the CEO of a data-mining firm, who happens to be played by Sean Bean, which does not auger well for his potential survivability. The host will be his daughter’s low-life boyfriend, her former drug dealer, Colin. He doesn’t seem like much, but he manages to wrestle control of his body back from Vos, at least temporarily, after much damage has been done.
Cronenberg, a chip off the old block, balances scenes of intense violence with trippy surreal passages in a sleekly stylish package. Fans of his father should also eat this up with a big spoon. However, it should be duly noted there is a previous precedent for the body-jumping assassin: Jesse Atlas’s short film Let Them Die Like Lovers, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, so nobody should say it is completely unknown. To be sure, Cronenberg comes up with plenty of his own twists. Nobody is implying anything, just acknowledging Atlas.
Andrea Riseborough (again with multiple films at Sundance) is quietly weird and subtly mental as Vos. Instead of going up-and-over-the-top, she takes in down and inward. Christopher Abbott is appropriately sweaty and beady-eyed as the schizophrenic Colin. Of course, Bean is cool chewing the scenery as the arrogant Parse, but the surprise treat is Jennifer Jason Leigh playing Girder as a steely villain as well as an understanding boss.
Reality gets fractured and blood flows in this film, so prepare for a nutty ride. However, it is definitely impressive genre filmmaking. Anyone attracted to extreme sf and action cinema should be drawn to it like a moth to flame. Highly recommended for cult movie fans, Possessor screens again today (1/30) and tomorrow night (1/31) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.