Possessor is a 2020 sci-fi psychological horror film written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, his second feature after Antiviral. An international co-production between Canada and the UK, the film stars Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott, with Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh among the supporting actors.
The film takes place 20 Minutes into the Future, where a secretive organization exists that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people's bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients.
Tasya Vos (Riseborough) is a corporate assassin who works for this organization, and while she has a special gift for the work, her experiences imitating other people have caused her to become detached from her own identity, and she suffers from thoughts of violence that she cannot separate from her home life.
Despite her fragile mental state, Vos signs on to a major job targeting wealthy CEO John Parse (Bean) and his daughter Ava (Middleton), which will be executed by possessing Ava's fiancé Colin (Abbott). However, both her mental strain and the unexpected nature of her target create grave complications for Vos, and she begins to lose control.
Possessor debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January, and premiered in the US, the UK and Canada later that fall. There were notably two versions of the film released: Possessor and Possessor Uncut. Uncut, the unrated director's cut that screened at Sundance, is considered to be the definitive version of the film, as the other version underwent several cuts to obtain an R rating — mainly to remove several instances of graphic violence and nudity.
Possessor contains examples of:
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The movie has some Cyberpunk vibes and technology but is otherwise grounded in reality in an unspecified time period.
- And I Must Scream:
- Heavily implied. In the opening scene, Holly is shown in tears before and after the assassination, even struggling to place the gun in her mouth, implying she’s putting up a fight from the inside. Later, Colin confronts Vos directly in his own mind.
- Also implied to be the case with John Parse, who survives the attempt on his life but is severely injured, both physically and mentally, in the process, and is last seen confined to a wheelchair in his garden with a look of pure despair on his scarred face, having lost essentially everything from his life.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Girder succeeds in ridding Vos of her human attachments so that she can perform as a perfect assassin. Furthermore, though John Parse survives the assassination attempt, he's a completely broken man and clearly unfit to run the company, so Reid (who tried to get his own father and sister killed so he could inherit everything) will likely still succeed.
- Battle in the Center of the Mind: Occurs between Vos and Colin as she tries to take over the latter's body.
- Bed Trick: Vos has sex with Colin's girlfriend in his body.
- Body Horror: As Eddie tries to get Vos to regain control over Colin, Colin hallucinates killing Vos and stealing her face, to the creepy effect seen on the poster image.
- Bowdlerise: As mentioned above, there's two different cuts of the film: one titled just Possessor and the other Possessor Uncut. While only a total of a minute is cut, it ruins the impact of the violence and some of the sexuality shown.
- Crapsack World: In this alternate 2008, having your privacy being stolen via your webcam is such a commonplace occurrence that nobody seems that alarmed about it.
- Dark Action Girl: Tasya Vos is an emotionless, trained assassin who, through brain implant technology, possesses unfortunate victims to carry out assassinations. She is scarily competent at her job.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: John Parse is clearly not thrilled that his daughter is dating a common drug dealer, and it's implied that this isn't the first time she's brought home an unworthy suitor. Despite this, Ava truly seems to love Colin.
- Death of a Child: Not only does Ira not survive the movie, his death is just as violent as everyone else’s.
- Downer Beginning: The film starts with Vos controlling a young hostess to assassinate a target and then commit Suicide by Cop.
- Downer Ending: Vos kills her husband Michael before then shooting and killing their son Ira. In the de-briefing after Colin expires and Vos is pulled out of the machine, she's shown the pinned butterfly from the beginning. This time around, she doesn't mention that she felt guilty about killing the insect, indicating that she's lost any remaining empathy and compassion she still had.
- Driven to Suicide: After killing someone, Vos has the host commit suicide, or at least attempts to make them do so.
- Emotionless Girl: Vos is extremely out-of-touch with her personal life, which Girder views as a good thing, as it means she's close to becoming a perfect assassin. She has trouble relating to her family and has to practice what she'll say to them in the same way she practices taking over someone else's body.
- Eye Scream: In the Facial Horror mentioned below, Vos manages to pluck Parse’s eyeball out while attempting to kill him.
- Facial Horror: Vos horrifically disfigures John Parse's face with a fire poker when she tries to kill him.
- Fan Disservice: All the sex in the movie is portrayed as such. Vos can't get over thoughts of violence when having sex with her husband, and the sight of frontal nudity involving Colin and Ava is undermined by the fact that Vos is possessing his body the whole time.
- Fate Worse than Death: Parse survives the assassination attempt but must now live with a missing eye, a heavily mutilated face, severe brain damage, and a deceased daughter. The last shot of him in the movie shows him confined to a wheelchair in his garden, exhibiting a look of complete despair and resignation.
- Gorn: There isn’t a single death in the movie that doesn’t result in horrific blood loss.
- Grand Theft Me: What Vos does to Colin and her other hosts.
- Karma Houdini: Girder succeeds in getting Vos to kill every single target, including her own family, without getting caught.
- Last-Name Basis: Girder is only known by her surname.
- The Mole: Eddie actually works for Vos's company and is a mole in Parse's.
- Murder in the Family: The assassination against John and Ava Parse is set up by Ava's brother Reid, who wants to inherit the company instead of Ava.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Both Tasya and John have lost their children by the end of the film, although neither seems particularly fazed by their losses.
- Puppeteer Parasite: Vos serves as this for her hosts.
- R-Rated Opening: In just the first ten minutes, Vos forces an innocent woman to brutally stab a man to death before getting shot to death by the police.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Many of Vos's kills reflect this with extremely gory results.
- Too Dumb to Live: When Colin (under Vos' control) returns to confront Parse while he's drinking some scotch, Parse is completely unphased by Colin pulling out a loaded pistol and refusing to leave the mansion. Parse doesn't take this threat seriously at all (even though Colin had attempted to beat him up at the party earlier), so it's not surprising what follows when he mumbles at Colin to get lost before standing up to go to bed.
- The Tooth Hurts: In addition to poking his eye out, Vos also stabs Parse in the mouth with the poker during her assasination attempt, graphically shattering many of his teeth in the process.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The official trailer reveals pretty much the entire plot, from the opening assassination to the failed attempt on Parse to Colin threatening Vos's family, leaving out only the smallest bits of context and the ending itself.
- Villain Protagonist: Tasya Vos, an emotionless assassin, is the film's lead.