Possessor Uncut Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by NEON
Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg
2020, 103 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 2nd, 2020
Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos
Christopher Abbott as Colin Tate
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Girder
Sean Bean as John Parse
I’ve been anxiously waiting to see more from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg since his debut feature Antiviral. That 2012 film, while not without its shortcomings, built a horrifying dystopian world upon a concept that is as revolting as it is depressingly plausible (a near-future where rabid fans pay top-dollar to be willingly infected with diseases harvested from their favorite celebrities). Eight years later, we’re now getting Possessor Uncut, another film with ideas that hold promise and potential that unfortunately are never fully reached.
The oddly-named Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a veteran cyber-assassin, working for an unnamed organization that uses brain-implant technology to remotely and temporarily control unwitting host bodies in order to cleanly dispatch high-level targets (sounds badass, right?). Tasya’s relationship with her estranged husband and son is rocky at best because, like many professional cinematic killers, she’s really married to the job and struggles increasingly with balancing her double life. After a successful but messy hit (it’s the literal definition of “overkill”) that opens the film, Tasya’s handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), recruits her for another lucrative assignment: to take over the mind of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) in order to assassinate Tate’s future father-in-law, John Parse (Sean Bean), and acquire a controlling stake in Parse’s company. To no viewer’s surprise, the job doesn’t go as smoothly as planned, and Tasya’s mind remains dangerously tethered to Colin’s as he goes on the run for murder and realizes he’s no longer in total control of his actions.
Where one of Antiviral’s strengths is making its gonzo plot elements feel lived-in and commonplace, Possessor Uncut suffers slightly from feeling like we’ve seen pieces and plot points handled better in other films. The idea of mind-control-for-hire is obviously reminiscent of movies like Inception and even Leigh Whannell’s stellar Upgrade, while the way that the frail Tasya remotely controls the handsome and more athletic Colin recalls the Bruce Willis stinker Surrogates. Other familiar elements, like the steely contract killer who can’t maintain a relationship with their oblivious family, don’t do much to help matters, although I appreciate the paradox of Tasya’s inability to connect with her loved ones while literally, neurologically connecting with her targets for work.
The acting is all solid. Genre fans may recognize Riseborough from one of Black Mirror’s bleaker episodes (Season 4’s “Crocodile”), as well as the latest reboot-reboot-remake-whatever of The Grudge. She conveys Tasya’s struggle, as someone who may no longer be suited for her bloody, high-stress job but sadly doesn’t know anything else, believably enough. Abbott, who starred opposite Joel Edgerton in the mismarketed but good-for-what-it-is It Comes at Night, gets the more physically demanding role as Tasya’s increasingly resistant host body. Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh (whose presence may or may not have had anything to do with her starring role in 1999’s eXistenZ for Cronenberg’s father, David) round out the recognizable faces, but both are mainly there to advance the story.
That brings me to what I would say is my chief complaint about the film – I just really wasn’t particularly drawn to any of the characters. There are some inspired moments designed to flesh out the leads, like the way Tasya has to practice speaking to her husband and son before seeing them, and the unspoken fascination that Tasya – a woman – has with Colin’s genitalia when she first takes over his body. But I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in anyone to say, “Oh no!” when things go sideways for them.
In addition, while the production is slick as hell and it’s admirable what they did with what was probably a limited budget (at least by Hollywood standards), there is an overreliance on bright lights and choppy editing to represent the connection between Tasya and Colin, with one’s face melting into the other via some admittedly good practical effects to show the chaotic coexistence of two minds in one body. It’s trippy and weird the first time, but after a while it feels overused.
I don’t mean to give the impression that this is a bad or boring film, by any means. I think most fans would agree that even a middling Cronenberg (whether David or Brandon) movie is still better than most studio genre efforts we get these days. Despite not quite living up to the potential of its premise, Possessor Uncut is a brutally violent and cerebral sci-fi thriller and a more than worthwhile second outing for Brandon Cronenberg.
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