Spoilers will pull you out now.
Science fiction and horror make excellent partners and have made for some memorable films. However, in the end, science fiction might determine the premise and the worldbuilding but the execution is mostly left up up to horror. The best examples of this subgenre will slow build into horror as possibilities that start in the mind of the viewer and are only hinted at in the storytelling. I think this feature does an above average job at carefully placing its dominoes before it starts tumbling them. Most of my reservations concern the execution and the payoff as the harvest of scares and fears feels somewhat thin.
Possessor (2020) was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an operative that works for a secret organization. She is put under a trance into a machine that allows her to take over the consciousness of another person after they’ve been prepped against their will and without their knowledge. This allows Tasya to infiltrate events, kill designated targets and have the individual whom she’s controlling commit suicide to erase all trace of involvement.
Tasya is the best agent of her field, but her last mission showed a few glitches. She was unable to properly self-terminate. Her constant use of the tech seems to be exposing some bugs. However, she keeps it to herself as she carefully practices going back home to her ex-husband and child. As she rehearses her casual lines to them, you can see how her calculated prep for possessing other people is now required for her to act human. There’s obviously something about to go critically wrong, and yet Tasya does not inform her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) about her glitches. When a new mission appears on the horizon, she’s so eager to jump into it she ends her break with her family early.
The new person that Tasya gets to take over is Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), an entry worker at a virtual tech company that is also in a relationship with Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton). Ava happens to be the daughter of his boss, John Parse (Sean Bean). They are both targets of the agency. Taking over Colin seems easy enough, but the problems soon appear as visions of Tasya and Colin seem in conflict, vying for control of the same host.
The film spends the first half introducing us to what Tasya does and her own conflict of both desiring and rejecting her personal life. Tasya is ruthlessly efficient, but as she ignores her weakening grasp on her own identity and sense of self, it becomes obvious she’s not going to be able to keep it together for her most crucial assignment. Andrea Riseborough gives a great performance as Tasya, but it falls to Christopher Abbott to portray both Tasya as Colin and Colin as the tormented soul trying to regain his self-control. It’s really hard to know who we’re cheering for in this struggle of consciences.
Recommended for audiences searching for new horror with a science fiction background. The movie keeps the effects grounded, preferring practical over CGI. The concepts set the premise, the performances do their best to cement it. I believe it a mostly achieved effort, although the second half seems short of the delivery of the horror scenario in full. We’re privy already to what we think should be the outcome of the unsustainable situation, but since we know the antagonist (Tasya) far longer that the victim (Colin) we are left in conflict as to which character we’re supposed to be invested in. In a non-traditional sense, I think it works better if both receive it. It’s worth your time. You can always pull out if it’s not your thing.
That will do for now.