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FILM REVIEW: Possessor – The BFI London Film Festival 2020

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

 Writer and Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Like father like son, in this bloody horror from Brandon Cronenberg, son of David. This film is not for the squeamish as eyeballs are popped and teeth shattered, but it still has a certain glacial charm that must have been inherited from his father. Like Crash, Cronenberg Senior’s take on the J. G, Ballard novel, Possessor is both an erotic thriller and a scary chiller.

Cronenberg has also pulled in quite a cast for his film. Andrea Riseborough plays assassin Vos, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, her handler while her target is none other that Sean Bean, a self-made arrogant millionaire. But it is Christopher Abbot as a man possessed who shines in the acting department

Set, it seems, just a few years into the future, getting away with murder has become easier for some. Through some unexplained medical procedure Vos is able to enter another’s body and take over the host’s form and, importantly, their will. Vos will then kill her prey before she turns the gun on the person she possess. She quickly returns to her own body, and when the police come across the corpse they believe that the killer has committed suicide and the case is neatly closed.

The film starts at the end of one of missions, but it seems that Vos is having problems with finishing the job. Her handler is worried about her, but the money they are being offered for the next job means that she eagerly suppresses her fears. Jason Leigh is scarily efficient administering balm to her hands after each assignment like a modern day Pontius Pilate.

Riseborough is an unlikely assassin, nervous and dependent around her ex-husband, but committed in her secret profession. Under Cronenberg’s cold lights she sometimes looks otherworldly, and this is only emphasised in the sections of the film that seem to have filmed with a Super8 camera, evocative of the shorts by Derek Jarman. In these nightmarish interludes the wills of Vos and her host battle for control.

Abbot plays Colin Tate, ex drug dealer who now goes out with one of his clients. He’s jacked in the dealing and now works for his girlfriend’s father (Bean) hacking into webcams to itemise furniture for reasons delightfully unclear. He’s excellent here, especially after Vos has entered him, testing out his voice and manner. He stares with confused desire at his own body, looking with interest in what hangs beneath his pyjamas. Humiliated and emasculated by Bean’s character we cheer him on, even as we know that it’s Vos, a woman and mother, who has given him the balls to fight back.

But even Abbot can’t quite carry the film’s third act, in which the tension of the first hour starts to unravel, the special effects become repetitive and where we become more interested in Tate’s survival more than Vos’s escape. But the end, when it comes, is brutal, so brutal that you may want to see it again.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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