LFF 2020 film review: Possessor
Ivan Radford | On 17, Oct 2020
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean
Watch Possessor online in the UK: London Film Festival
Possessor is streaming online as part of the 2020 London Film Festival. For more on how the festival works, click here.
It’s been almost a decade since Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, emerged as a filmmaker in his own right with the wonderfully creepy satire Antiviral. Now, he’s back with the bolder, sleeker thriller Possessor, and it’s definitely worth the wait.
Andrea Riseborough stars as Tasya, an assassin who body-hops to carry out each job. The result is somewhere between Inception and Tenet, but fused with the grisly edge of Eastern Promises and the lighting of The Neon Demon. We follow as she tries to keep track of herself while going into her latest job: possessing Colin (Christopher Abbott), the son-in-law of a media mogul (Sean Bean) who will be made to bump off the tycoon.
Riseborough is remarkable in the lead role, taking on a part that’s unlike anything she’s done before – she’s a fiercely resilient force, but one who’s still taken the blows of becoming someone else on a routine before. She’s riveting in the scenes between each hit, as her handler (Jennifer Jason Leigh, deserving of more screen time) runs a Blade Runner-esque evaluation to make sure she remembers her own past. Part therapy, part job interview, it’s a revealing, bleak process that reinforces Cronenberg’s superb world-building.
What’s really impressive is that for most of the film, we’re watching Christopher Abbott pretend to be her, while dressed up as him. He starts acting out of character, while desperately trying to behave in a way that might create a plausible narrative behind his eventually lethal actions – the fact that Tasya seems to have an increasingly disturbing predilection to messily stabbing her targets only adds to the tension. Abbott’s magnetic presence also has a convincing chemistry with Tuppence Middleton as Colin’s partner, who can sense something’s not right. Sean Bean completes the ensemble piece, and he’s as nasty as they come in his opulent mansion and thuggish suit.
But Brandon’s perhaps the real star of the show here, crafting a slick thriller that moves like an action blockbuster but is inescapably weird and impossibly unsettling – a sequence that plays like a Mission: Impossible stunt gone wrong is hauntingly effective, while the climactic confrontation that feels tragically inevitable is the stuff of garishly coloured nightmares. The result leaves you squirming and trying to piece together what’s what like its own fragmented heroine – and wondering how long we’ll have to wait for Brandon Cronenberg to step behind the camera again.
Possessor streamed at the London Film Festival. It will be released in the UK on 27th November.