Brandon Cronenberg has a difficult burden on his shoulders, living up to his father’s immense filmmaking legacy as the master of body horror and one of the greatest filmmakers around. With his mind-bending sophomore feature, Brandon exhibits his dad’s penchant for gruesome violence but proves his worth as a supremely talented, visionary director in his own right. Possessor combines an engrossing high-concept script with bold visuals and plenty of blood-soaked thrills in this jaw-droppingly brilliant sci-fi trip.
Set in an alternate 2008, the plot revolves around hitwoman-for-hire Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) who uses brain-implant technology to hijack people’s bodies so she can carry out assassinations that benefit her shadowy employer. By disguising herself as someone close to the target she’s able to efficiently undertake the murder and then return to her own body by forcing her host to commit suicide. As one of the best and most experienced assassins in the business she is given the company’s biggest job to date by her handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Tasya’s mission is to kill powerful tech CEO John (Sean Bean) by inhabiting the body of his future son-in-law Colin (Christopher Abbott). But Colin doesn’t comply like typical hosts, causing severe mental strain on Tasya as she fights for control of the body and her own identity.
Picking up his father’s talent for body horror, Brandon punctuates Possessor with some truly shocking moments of mutilation. Eyeballs are gouged, veins are slashed, and bodies are left butchered in a series of extremely bloody attacks. Dan Martin’s exceptional practical effects make this ultra-violence visceral and squirm-inducing yet wildly entertaining. There are moments that will make the most hardened viewer recoil in horror at the staggeringly realistic gore. These fantastic practical effects are complemented further by stunning production design which drowns the aesthetic in vivid oranges and reds. A fittingly panicked, deranged score from Jim Williams also adds to the unnerving mood.
Cronenberg’s organic worldbuilding is mightily impressive in what is only his second feature film, he constructs a nightmarish, paranoid atmosphere where individuals can literally have their identities hacked into. This brilliantly executed script touches on an array of very modern anxieties involving online privacy, surveillance capitalism and identity theft. These thought-provoking themes are expertly teased out by Riseborough and Abbott’s scintillating performances. Riseborough is spellbinding as Tasya, perfectly capturing the psychological toll her job is having on her own selfhood. And Abbot mesmerisingly conveys the feeling of an alien presence inside his own body, the sense that Tasya is looking through Colin’s eyes feels completely seamless.
While operating within a similar cinematic sphere as his dad, Brandon Cronenberg serves up a gloriously unhinged slice of sci-fi pulp steeped in originality and ambition. An intelligent, shockingly violent and unrelentingly bonkers ride from start to finish, Possessor is one of the years most exciting, breath-taking films.