Ego Death and Mind Horror: Possessor (2020)

Possessor (2020) is a film that defies complete genre adherence, flitting between science fiction, horror, and arthouse deftly. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg (yes, he is the son of that Cronenberg) Possessor doesn't feel like he is trying to emulate his father's work, but more that it is a modernization of it, an abstraction. Where as his father is known for embracing body horror, this new project could be dubbed "mind horror" and what could be more frightening than losing your sense of self?

The film follows a secret assassination agency that has a novel way of completing assignments: they insert a device into a person's brain that lets the assassin implant their consciousness into their body and control them. They then use this hijacked individual to murder whoever the target is and upon completing the deed they kill themselves and are back into their original body. These "body jackers" use a sophisticated machine to stay connected to the host and it takes a lot of skill and a strong will to keep control over the borrowed body.

Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is the best agent but with each kill she loses more of herself. These are ultra-violent murders, and though Tasya doesn't have to bear the physical consequences of these atrocities, the images are burned into her mind and she has frequent flashbacks and hallucinations. She begins to relish the massacres, adding grisly flourishes and going overboard with the destruction. 

One can't help but see the similarity between her detached killing and the way films and video games offer the same sensation of simulated violence. This is not to say it has the same effect in real life, as the film is obviously this concept taken to an extreme level, but it is an interesting idea and worth exploring. Pain and death leave mental scars even if the outside persona is tightly controlled. Tasya literally has to rehearse how to act like a normal person when she goes home to her family because of the dehumanizing effect of her occupation.

Possessor is gorgeously filmed and all of the high-tech equipment on display has a curiously retro and analog aesthetic. Much of the narrative is shrouded in mystery and it's refreshing to see a story that doesn't feel the need to over-explain every little detail. The world feels close to ours, but just askew enough that it could be an alternate universe. One of the most alluring aspects about the film is the judicious use of practical gore effects which is used in conjunction with intriguing image post-processing--this makes for a nightmare inducing atmosphere and does an excellent job portraying the inside of someone's mind (and the shattering of said mind).

I found this film to be quite disturbing at times, especially in the third act, and on top of it being brutally gory, it's unabashedly sexual as well, delving into some of the kinkier aspects of what body swapping might entail. Some might also be put off by its more metaphysical jaunts and find it pretentious. However, if one goes into it with an open mind, they will find that it is one of the most haunting and compelling techo-horror films ever made.

--Michelle Kisner