Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Running Time: 103 mins
Possessor is an American film about an agent who uses the ability to inhabit other people’s bodies to carry out assassinations of high-profile individuals, but soon faces complications when one of her missions goes awry.
There’s no denying that Possessor is a visually striking piece of cinema that plays with some fascinating philosophical ideas, made all the more dark by an unrelentingly violent streak throughout. However, as eye-catching as it is, the film really lacks the depth that its transcendent atmosphere really deserves, and ultimately proves a disappointingly superficial take on some powerfully thought-provoking themes.
There is a lot to say about Possessor, but when it comes to positives, most of that has to do with the film’s style and atmosphere. Undeniably, Possessor is a visually arresting watch, with a gorgeously bleak cinematic style that creates a powerful sense of unease.
The film is set in what seems to be some kind of era-less near future, and that ambiguity makes Possessor so intriguing from the start, while the movie’s overbearing atmosphere and immediate propensity for very intense violence means it’s not one to look away from in the early stages.
Director Brandon Cronenberg follows in his father David’s footsteps with an immense capacity for dark yet brilliantly imaginative worldbuilding, and does well to bring a potent, transcendent dramatic atmosphere to the film throughout.
Meanwhile, Andrea Riseborough puts in yet another fantastic performance (confirming that she’s probably one of the best actresses working today), and despite not featuring on screen much for a top-billed lead, her presence echoes through the whole film.
In that, there are a lot of positives to take from Possessor, and it’s certainly a film to watch for its striking style, as well as a captivating and thrillingly ambiguous opening act.
However, where the film impresses on a stylistic front, it disappoints when it comes to storytelling. On the whole, Possessor is far too simplistic a film for what really seems like a story that wants to tell something more.
That gripping ambiguity in the early stages is unfortunately replaced by a surprisingly run-of-the-mill spy/sci-fi story, which really struggled to grab me on account of the deliberately slow pacing and lack of action.
What Possessor needs to have focused more on is delving as deep as possible into its themes of identity, the body and the human self. The intensity of the body horror here isn’t as shocking as many of David Cronenberg’s films, and so it feels as if Possessor is looking more towards a deep psychological assessment of familiar themes.
The problem, however, is that it never really comes to the fore. There are of course moments where we really do see the separation of mind and body becoming apparent, blurring the lines of identity in an extremely uncomfortable manner, but the movie never pushes forward in exploring the consequences of that.
There are a lot of thematic parallels between Possessor and Jonathan Glazer’s incredible Under The Skin (not least the overbearing atmosphere). Under The Skin, however, dared to push thematic boundaries and broke new ground in its view on identity and the human condition, with its memorably slow and quiet last act arguably its more thematically rich.
Possessor, however, lays the groundwork for a similarly riveting thematic exploration, but consistently reverts back to a safer, more one-dimensional action/sci-fi plot that really lacks the depth its incredible premise deserves.
As a result, the movie isn’t able to pull off its bold style to perfection, and ultimately struggles to keep you enthralled all the way through, despite having started out so strongly.
There are without doubt a number of strengths to Possessor, and it’s one of the year’s most visually striking films, while also featuring a great performance from Andrea Riseborough. However, given the potential for real, riveting depth in its premise, its superficial exploration of its core themes can only be labelled a disappointment. So, that’s why I’m giving Possessor a 7.1 overall.