‘The Possessor’ is traumatic, disturbing cinema: do not watch

Joy Webb

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0 out of 5 stars 

  If I could give this movie a negative rating, I would. 

     “The Possessor,” a sci-fi/horror film, left me feeling possessed. If I wanted to be traumatized by witnessing a child’s body parts being mutilated, I wouldn’t go to the movies; I would go to war. This movie was deeply traumatic to watch and damaging to my psyche, and this is coming from someone who has seen almost every horror movie ever made and loved them all.  

     Before the pandemic hit, I would go to the movies at least once a month to see a horror movie, and since it was recently spooky season, I decided it was worth the risk to go to a theater, wear a mask and see the one horror movie that came out this fall.  

     Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie a 92 percent rating, and I’m convinced that it is just because it is one of the only new movies released in the latter part of 2020. 

     Based on the ratings and the impressive cast — including Andrea Risenborough as Tasya Vos, Christopher Abbott as Colin Tate, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Girder and Gabrielle Graham as Holly, to name a few — I thought this movie was going to be a hit, especially since the film touches on themes of gender identity, artificial intelligence, reality and paranoia. 

     According to IMDb, the movie is about Tasya Vos (Risenborough), an elite, corporate assassin who takes control of other people’s bodies, using brain-implant technology, to execute high-profile targets. It sounded to me like a rendition of Black Mirror — a terrifying account of how technology can be used in sadistic ways to control people’s lives.  

     While this was partly correct, I did not realize that for 90 percent of the film I would be watching people die or be murdered in horrific ways. 

     Watching bodies contort and distort in ungodly and unimaginable forms is not my idea of horror. I like a good jump scream, leaving the movie feeling like my nerves and adrenaline have been heightened in a sort of cathartic release, like skydiving. I did not plan on having to spend an entire session with my therapist talking about how I felt like this movie was a sign of decrepitude and disturbance within our society.  

     The film was directed by Brandon Cronenberg, and for this individual, I am very worried. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea that through artificial intelligence, these individuals were able to inhabit and take control of each other’s bodies/psyches — that is genuinely scary. But the film was all over the place, hard to follow and so gruesome that I could not focus on what was going on.  

     At first, it was a breath of fresh air to think I was seeing a film that did not play on an idea that had been beaten to death in cinema and redone a million times before — it was fresh, but not in a good way.  

     In the beginning of the movie, Holly (Graham) jams an object that looks like a small phone-charger into her skull, blood spewing all over bathroom walls. Not scary, just ew. She is clearly very distraught but exits the bathroom to enter an elevator with other women dressed in the same server-type of uniform. 

     Holly enters a lounge room, filled with a lot of well-off looking white men drinking cocktails — she beelines for a big, fat Harvey Weinstein-lookalike and stabs him repeatedly.  

     Soon after, Holly tries to kill herself, but is too late, as cops enter and shoot her repeatedly. This graphic scene set the tone for the rest of the movie, and I was extremely sad that Holly was already dead, but of course white-Hollywood kills off the only Black female character right in the beginning of the movie. 

     They flash to another setting, where Tasya is lying on a table, with her head in a large helmet/MRI looking machine; only her lower half exposed. When she emerges and awakes, we see her boss, Girder (Jason Leigh).  

     Leigh in this role is one never seen before: cold, sinister and stern. In many other movies, she is the hilarious drunk lady, so I was impressed by her performance.  

     From their discussion in an ominous white, hospital-like room, we find out that Tasya has been hired by this company to enter, or “possess,” other people’s bodies through artificial capabilities and kill targeted persons.  

     This was intriguing, but it just got worse. 

Photo courtesy of BostonHerald.com

     Tasya has lost track of her own identity due to her job; she is separated from her husband and has very little contact with her child. She is expected to possess a man named Colin (Abbott), a nobody who is dating a CEO’s daughter, in order to kill the CEO, who runs a Kafka-esque multi-national corporation. Abbott was also impressive with his acting and brevity, since I had only seen him as the gentle and handsome Charlie, on Lena Dunham’s television series “Girls.”  

     Tasya ends up successfully inhabiting Colin, leading him on a manic killing spree in which he stabs the CEO (but does not successfully kill him), kills his own girlfriend — a rich, beautiful cocaine addict — and kills Tasya’s ex-husband and child. 

     This was where I drew the line; I refuse to watch a child be murdered in such a gruesome and graphic way. Yes, I know it is not real, but it was fucked up to watch, nonetheless. 

     I covered my eyes for all the murder scenes. I can handle blood and I am not soft when it comes to gore. I did not turn my head when the man in “Midsommar,” had his skull crushed but didn’t quite die after jumping off a cliff, so that is not the issue. I watched a young boy be shot repeatedly and die slowly — who in their right mind would pay to watch that? That is not art or cinema; that is sinister and disturbing. 

     The idea and plot of this movie had real potential, but the execution failed miserably. The attempt to be abstract and different, in terms of visuals and format, truly backfired. 

     Unless you are a psychopath that enjoys watching people die in the worst ways possible, I would not recommend this film. I still sometimes have nightmares about it, and if artificial intelligence does take this leap in the future, I will be exiting society.