Possessor (2020)

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh

After bursting onto the scene with Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg returns behind the camera seven years later. His sophomore feature as a director opens on attention-grabbing form, as an unassuming figure commits a graphic assassination, before being gunned down by police. We then cut to a machine opening up, as a figure within gasps for air. This is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a contract killer who performs her work in a unique manner. Through the use of brain-implant technology, she executes high-profile targets by controlling other people's bodies.

Approaching this high-concept idea through a personal lens, Cronenberg has us witness the effects this work has on those involved. After the job's completion, Tasya is faced with a series of objects, and must recall any personal significance they hold. This is a method to help get her bearings and adjust back to normal, while raising any potential red flags to her employers. While all may seem okay to the latter, we can see our lead is feeling detached from her life. Before arriving at her family's home, she takes a moment to practice what she's going to say, and the correct tone she will use. It recalls her work observing a target, as she copies their speech mannerisms and becomes caught up in their routine, to prepare herself for integration. As the lines of division become apparent, we see how torn our lead is between life at home and her work. It may invoke familiar storytelling, but it unfolds in ways that will leave you blindsided, and Riseborough's wonderful performance ensures we believe the journey taken.

The newest job is for their biggest client yet, which involves taking over the body of Colin Tate. Formerly a drug-dealer, he fell in love with a rich client, who happens to be the daughter of a rich and powerful corporation owner. Christopher Abbott is tasked with playing dual sides of the role, as he conveys Tasya's attempted blending into his life, and the shock aftermath of what his body has done. Cronenberg uses this integration to touches upon themes of identity, highlighting parallels between the characters, including the inner dissatisfaction lurking in their home lives. There's even a scene where their partners apologise, due to guests outstaying their welcome. The lines are further blurred due to how long Tasya stays in Colin's mind, as the struggle for control grows, captured by the slowly spinning exterior shots. This makes for a compelling push and pull between the characters, as they become lost in who's driving the meat-wagon that is Colin's body.

Rounding off the cast are a great array of talents. Jennifer Jason Leigh portrays Girder, the handler who has been in Tasya's position, while Tuppence Middleton puts a spirited turn into her small role of Ava, the partner of Colin. The latter describes her father as feeding off misery, a trait which shines through Sean Bean's performance, and the bitter musings John Parse doles out.

From early on, the gnarly effects are brought alive so impressively. It's a wonderful culmination of Dan Martin's recent work in the make-up department. Like in Lords Of Chaos, the gruesome acts are graphic and distressing, while the more fantastical elements are exceptionally realised, as in Color Out Of Space. These help to convey the head-trip horror, as the mind-scraping elements blend seamlessly with a bit of espionage. All of it is set to a hypnotic score and a stunning colour palette, which help to birth this vibrant and fascinating world that's been crafted. One particular scene best exemplifies this, as the physical world intercuts with the inner workings of the mind. The way it flits between visual styles, each distinctly realised, works to a chilling effect. What's been crafted is the horror version of Inception, but with more visible cocks on-screen.

What Brandon Cronenberg has brought to life is enthralling, both visually and thematically. But just one viewing won't do. It'll linger in your mind, the urge to seek it out and unpack it's contents will only grow. Whether that's result of somebody lurking in your head is another story, but good luck staying away from this tale. With such original ideas being brought alive in fascinating ways, here's hoping it's a shorter wait for Brandon's next feature.

Possessor is available to rent from Video On Demand services everywhere