I don’t think this movie fully works, but I don’t want to dismiss it completely. It’s aggressively unpleasant for long stretches with a wildly unappealing main character and some unclarity about who’s who for a while, but the main character has an emotional (or one might say emotionless) journey that’s well built around unpleasantness and the unclarity actually feeds that some of that at the same time. I’m mixed on this, having never really engaged with it on any level while watching it, but having learned to appreciate it on a certain intellectual level as I considered it after it was over.
Written and directed by David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, Possessor is a weird science fiction horror film of a woman, Tasya Vos, who remotely controls the bodies of unsuspecting individuals to commit assassinations for contracts. The movie begins with her towards the end of one contract, controlling the body of a young hostess that she forces to stab a lawyer to death horribly. There are interesting details here. She has a gun, but she chooses the much more brutal knife killing. When the man is dead, she places her hand in the blood almost celebratory fashion. More importantly to the story, she brings the gun to her mouth to hill her host, breaking the connection and allowing her to go back to her normal body, but she can’t make it happen. Whether it’s her own inhibitions or the host fighting back is never made clear, but Vos ends up getting released when the police show up and kill her host in a brief shootout.
The thing about Vos is that she’s an inhuman monster, but she’s still clinging to her humanity. A test her handler, Girder, puts her through after every job has her reviewing random items to see if she’s fully in control of her identity and facilities, enough to identify objects that are hers from those that are not. One particular item, a butterfly killed and mounted when she was a child, elicits words of regret over the action from decades before. She goes back to her separated husband’s home, being in the middle of an effort to reconnect with him and their son, and she practices her basic greetings down the street. When she makes love to her husband, she’s completely checked out until she decides to mime interest. She had asked for time away from work, but one evening at home and she calls Girder asking for the next job.
That job involves the future son-in-law of the founder and CEO of a data mining company. The objective is to possess the son in order to kill the CEO, using his strained relationship with the father-in-law as the pretext that will sell the crime to the world. Here is where we see the process from the beginning, where the subject, Colin, has to be kidnapped with some minor brain surgery in order for the process to work. We see the unsure first steps of Vos learning the small details impossible to pick up in surveillance, the unsteady steps into a relationship she can’t understand, and her trying to do his job at the data mining firm for him.
All through this, I was cautiously engaged, waiting for the movie to make something of itself. The ideas were percolating, somethings in vivid visual form, and I kept watching. The montage of melting skin into wax that reincorporates to show Vos taking over Colin’s body is vivid and striking. The data mining job is invasive and voyeuristic involving using personal cameras in people’s homes to track what kinds of curtains they have. All through this, Vos is having trouble keeping control, leading to Colin blacking out at one point.
The extended middle section of Vos wrestling with Colin is where I think the movie gets held back. We never get a good handle on Colin, so the fight with Vos never gains any real concrete feeling. All we really have is the idea that Vos is struggling to control herself. That may end up being the overall point, but Colin fighting back in some way indicates that he should have been a greater focus, perhaps creating a direct contrast between the two in terms of views towards humanity. With Colin being such a non-entity through this, until he does gain some control after the assassination and is just panicking, the conflict feels underused thematically, leading to a thinner conflict that means less that it could.
The finale of the film leads to Vos abandoning all that’s left of her humanity completely. She can’t pull the trigger with the gun in Colin’s mouth, but Girder commits an act of shocking violence. It’s hard to take, but it does ultimately have a point, exemplified by the moment of Vos looking over her items post-mission and leaving out the mention of being regretful of the death of the butterfly, meaning that she’s abandoned her humanity completely to become a better weapon. I think it’s safe to assume that she’ll have little trouble pulling the trigger on her next mission.
It’s the story of an inhuman monster becoming more inhuman. I can appreciate that, but it’s a hard pill to swallow. Mix in the intentionally uncomfortable imagery (Vos fighting Colin while Colin is making love to his fiancée is probably the central example), and this becomes a hard movie to get into. Vos isn’t a character to invest in as she starts bad and just gets worse. Her fight with Colin is indistinct because one side of the conflict is underwritten. However, I can appreciate it, after the fact, on a certain intellectual level about Vos’s journey. This is a flawed movie that I find interesting to consider. Brandon Cronenberg could grow into an interesting filmmaker.