It is that rare director that doesn’t just dominate a genre, but bends it to his or her will to such a degree as to subjugate it under their banner. Indeed, the names Lynch, Tarantino and (Sofia) Coppola have rightly all earned the suffixes “ian” or “esque,” when comparison’s are made to those attempting to replicate the true depths of their incessantly mimicked styles.
So imagine trying to follow in the footsteps of David Cronenberg. Arguably beginning with 1981’s Scanners, the uncompromising Canadian filmmaker took the predictable, anti-intellectual genre of horror and twisted it into a vision that was both classical and futuristic, psychological, but also shockingly corporeal and physical. His son Brandon proved a worthy successor to his father stylistically with 2012’s Antiviral—which dealt with celebrity fan obsession in a most gruesome manner; and with his second film Possessor (in select theaters and drive-ins October 9), may have now succeeded equally in the task of storytelling.
The dystopian (naturally) film stars Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos, a corporate death broker, who uses brain-implant technology to take over other people’s minds and bodies. And, trust us, it’s not because she’s looking to access their Netflix account; rather, she turns them into ruthless assassins—though the assassin is actually her, working from inside of them—at the behest of high-paying clients. Jennifer Jason Leigh, a Cronenberg veteran (1999’s eXistenZ) is her coldly efficient overlord.
In the first trailer, Leigh’s Girder is seen avariciously rubbing her hands together, while proudly proclaiming, “Our next contract’s a big one.” Indeed it is—the CEO of the “largest operation in the US.” The scheme is to have one Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) knock off his future bride and father-in-law (played by a charismatic Sean Been), in order to divert a significant inheritance. But as it turns out, this too self-aware “killer” is putting up a resistance, and starts to make inconvenient inquiries like, “I need to know what you’ve done to me.” (Girder rightly observes, “He’s become a danger.”)
Vos and Tate subsequently get into a kind of psychological warfare, both forcefully jockeying for existential dominance over the other. But despite the focus on head games, Possessor is also luridly violent—Cronenberg does seem to like making a very bloody mess.
But what’s perhaps truly effective about the film is that it addresses several incisively zeitgeisty topics at once: how technology is taking over our humanity, how its readiness and ease of application might forever alter our sense of morality…and, most of all, how the tensions of our high-speed, fully connected contemporary life are tearing apart our very sense of self.
“Sometimes, that small thought…is all it takes to lose control,” Vos observes. And this is madness of a whole different sort.