Corporate espionage sci-fi thriller is director Brandon Cronenberg’s weird breakout
The future is female parasitic corporate moles. In the most pessimistic of late-stage capitalism settings (not ours, the film’s), Brandon Cronenberg bursts out from his father’s shadow with his second feature film, Possessor.
POSSESSOR ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg
Written by: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean
Running time: 103 min
While the Amazon-surrogates of this world invade privacy as you would expect, collecting data on users’ curtain colors through spying on in-home smart device cameras, Tasya Vos’ (Andrea Riseborough) employer ups the corporate ante. Her company has technology that allows her to interface remotely with an implant in a person’s brain and inhabit (or pilot) them. Tasya is particularly adept at using this access to facilitate hostile takeovers by way of murder-suicides.
It’s simple, really. Take possession of someone close to a company CEO, either someone who will be physically nearby during a window of opportunity or play the long game with a family member. Kill the CEO, make the host put a gun in their mouth, and unplug from the virtual machine. Then, collect a check from the person who hired the hit. It’s the future of social engineering, and it’s the perfect crime.
Tasya’s latest mission is the long game type. She must possess Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the new boyfriend of the daughter of a major corporation’s CEO, then do a convincing job over a few days of making it seem Colin’s having a mental breakdown. Off the dad and the daughter, then himself, so the next executive waiting in the wings can take over the company and call it a day. The most beautiful part of this plan, Tasya’s boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) briefs her, is that they can always blackmail their customer and essentially own the company. Of course, things don’t go as planned.
The corporate espionage angle of this sci-fi psycho thriller will draw comparisons to Inception, but please don’t do that. It’s an insult. Possessor is neither in love with itself over its premise, nor content with telling you rather than showing you. There’s never a need to exposit about the mechanisms or sell you. Instead we are very much along for the horrifying psychological ride of losing oneself in another person’s body and mind, at the mercy of an employer’s judgment, while being hooked into the literal machine.
Possessor has more in common with another recent horror success in Get Out, wherein bodies are commodities overtaken because they are coveted for their unique abilities with no regard for the soul within. In the context of a corporate hellscape, however, the commentary about loss of autonomy for those who get their hands dirty is very much the point.
Much like Parasite, which could easily have been the name of this film, we’ll be referencing this one for some time as we watch the Ubers, Amazons, and Teslas of the world amass wealth at humanity’s expense.