Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Notable Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean
When Brandon Cronenberg exploded on the scene with his debut feature-length film, Antiviral, he firmly launched a bright red flare into the night sky. I am here. The Cronenberg name is in good hands. However, the length of time between that film and his latest, Possessor, stated something else. Perhaps the strength of that debut was a fluke? Now that Possessor has found a small, but dedicated theatrical release through Neon and Well Go USA, it becomes apparent that the time between films was worth it. Possessor is an incredible piece of in-depth, harrowing cinema. It’s a film where the intensity of its atmosphere is only matched by its bursts of abrasive violence and stark visuals. Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a modern horror film that matches some of the best work of his father, a true high-water mark, and Possessor is truly a statement film.
One could make the remark that any film that puts its audience into an extensional crisis while it’s playing is either a) a disaster or b) a masterpiece. Fortunately, in the case of Possessor, it’s the latter. While the story and initial marketing for the film portray it along the lines of a science fiction fueled thriller, make no mistake – this film leans heavily into the horror of its situation. Technically, yes, it’s a story about a company that implants an assassin’s consciousness into the body of another person to kill a target, which certainly sounds like a science fiction thriller. However, with Cronenberg behind the film, it’s a far more subversive and unnerving experience.
Thematic questions for the characters, digging into the role of identity, sexuality, and the disconnection from the human experience litter the cinematic landscape of Possessor. Imbued with a sense of old school paranoia, which fuels a tonality that gives the film a late 70s or early 80s vibe, the various questions that are addressed by its plot and narrative, in particular the duality of having two very different personalities battling over one body, makes a cinematic existential crisis put into visual form. In doing this, Cronenberg delivers on completely unnerving visuals that go along with its themes. Possessor does not hold back. Along with some incredibly tight and profound performances, there is almost too much to process and digest in this film. If anything, I can’t wait for it to come out on home video so that I can properly start to tease apart all of the subtle detailing in it.
On the surface level, outside of the previously mentioned performances – of which the combination of Riseborough and Abbott proves to be spectacularly dense and intimate, Possessor also provides a substantial amount of entertainment. It’s a slower burn thriller than many might expect, again the tonality is that of a late 70s or early 80s techno-thriller, but when it bursts into its high tension and often surrealistic blurred realities, it shocks and awes. The film rarely shies away from anything and if you are queasy to gore and violence, then this film may push a few buttons. A handful of death sequences are exploitatively heavy and it works in conjunction with the rising atmospheric tension of its concept.
Brandon Cronenberg solidifies his status as one of the most interesting voices in genre cinema with Possessor. It’s a film so finely tuned into its themes, plot, characters, and narrative that to separate them would be an impossible task. The execution is damn near flawless, but its unrelenting use of atmosphere, visual terror, and bursts of violence make it an abrasive film that may not appeal to more casual cinema fans. For those that are willing to dive into the wavelengths that Cronenberg is toying with though, Possessor is a visceral experience that is bound to impress.