Hollywood nepotism can be frustrating at times. With so many burgeoning actors and filmmakers bursting onto the scene in their family member’s footsteps, it can sometimes feel unfair to the whole selective process that weeds so many quality filmmakers out of the circle simply because of their genes. However, every once in a while you get a talent from another person in the industry that simply makes you forget about the nepotism involved with their success. Sofia Coppola, Drew Barrymore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carrie Fisher, and Angelina Jolie, are just some of the stars having followed in the footsteps of Hollywood legacies to their successful careers. But what if I told you there was one that even genre film fans could even celebrate? Enter Brandon Cronenberg, son of filmmaker David Cronenberg. Much like his father, Brandon has an affinity for body horror, and his sophomore feature, Possessor is here to show you just how in tune with it he is.
Set in an alternate reality 2008 Toronto, Possessor follows Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin working for Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who does her work by infiltrating and possessing the mind of a person close to the target to create an alternative narrative for those who want said person dead. When Tasya is assigned to kill billionaire John Parse (Sean Bean), she possesses the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the deadbeat boyfriend to John’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Going smoothly at first, Tasya soon begins to notice Colin’s consciousness pushing back against her possession, setting forth a violent cat-and-mouse game against the clock before both lose everything they’ve ever loved.
Possessor is hard to concisely put into words, but despite that, it’s a film that is surprisingly simple in execution (pardon the pun). It’s a film of an assassination attempt gone bad, with everything else leaning in heavily to the incredibly nihilistic alternate reality Cronenberg has created here. Despite being 2008, there’s quite a bit to distinguish the film as subtly cyberpunk, with a futuristic vibe that works on the film’s behalf. It’s not a world that I feel like I would like to live in, but it’s one that’s as alive and moving as any other big-budget sci-fi film.
Once the focus of many a prestige picture of British cinema, Andrea Riseborough has fashioned herself a bit of a scream queen in the past two years in films like this, Mandy, and the well-intentioned, but unfortunately ill-fated reboot of The Grudge. Here, she is given much more room narratively to fill into a complicated anti-hero role. You can’t necessarily “like” her, if only for the nature of her work, but Riseborough is such a magnetic presence in everything that she’s in that you can’t help but root for her throughout, even in the morally gray moments.
Abbott fills in an inverse role to Riseborough, as you simply cannot find the room to like his character on a personal level, but you know that none of the events of the film are particularly deserved on his part. Possessor creates a wonderful dual narrative in shifting the balance of its focus between Riseborough and Abbott, creating a great moral dilemma about which character “deserves” to make it through their own storyline unscathed, if either of them do at all. It’s hard to say, and their performances play so wonderfully off of each other that it’s hard to know what is the correct way to feel at any point in the film.
Marketed as Possessor: Uncut by the studio, despite the threat of it ever being “cut” never existing, Possessor is an incredibly rough movie to watch proving that there is truth in the title. If the film was to be submitted to the ratings process, it would most definitely snag an NC-17 rating. I almost wish the film had released with an NC-17 rating just to hype up the whole ordeal, but I can understand wanting to completely avoid the stress altogether…even if I still don’t understand why they’re marketing the film as “uncut.”
And with that, it’s hard to say that Possessor is an attractive film by any means, but that feels entirely deliberate on the entire production’s part. This is an ugly, violent film dealing with ugly, violent people doing ugly, violent things to each other. The world of Possessor is not a world to strive to, and that truly devastating look into a different, but similar enough world is enough to truly engage you with the real brutality of it all. Possessor is objectively grisly, but its nihilistic worldview and characters make the violence hold just that much more weight to it.
Possessor is a gruesome, ugly, morally repugnant film that I loved nearly every second of. Cronenberg builds a world of horrid loathsomeness that only a Cronenberg could build, with some of the gnarliest body horror you’ll see all year. On top of that, he takes a relatively simple formula and builds a deep, living world out of it, making for some truly exciting sci-fi cinema. Possessor definitely will not be many people’s cup of tea, whether it’s too violent, too dark, or just too strange, but these are precisely the reasons that I loved Possessor, and I think you already know whether you will, too.
Just…don’t go see it in a theater. Studios are telling you that it’s safe to, but no movie, even one as awesome as Possessor, is worth the risk right now. Play it safe and wait for its Nov. 6 VOD release.
In select theaters October 2nd, 2020.
For more information head to the official Possessor Uncut website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5