Following in the footsteps of his father, the iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg, writer and director Brandon Cronenberg dabbles in the ‘body horror’ sub-genre that his old man pioneered for his grisly sophomore feature Possessor. Revered hitwoman Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is at the centre of the sci-fi thriller, working for an organisation that uses brain-implant technology to allow assassins to carry out hits whilst inhabiting someone else’s body. For her latest assignment, she must ‘possess’ Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) to take out his boss John Parse (Sean Bean), the filthy rich head of a data mining corporate empire.
A small but significant glitch in Tasya’s system leads to an inner conflict with Colin as they struggle for control of the same soul. These intense moments of mental mindfuckery are amplified by a terrorising soundscape composed by John Williams, and as two brains fight for dominance over Colin’s actions, anyone and everyone in the vicinity is forced to face the consequences. Suffering from psychological trauma, the protagonist has a penchant for gory executions, and Cronenberg applies extreme violence extremely liberally to his striking aesthetic of deep reds and blues.
There’s a lot of subtext packed into this bold, ambitious narrative, but the storytelling remains streamlined and nearly paced despite all of its moving parts. Quite often with science heavy premises, writers feel the need to explain every element in the most minute detail but Cronenberg trusts his audience to go with the flow, and this makes for a thought-provoking, engaging experience, and the shock sequences become all the more shocking.
A superb group of actors come together to bring this dark dystopian vision to light. With albino white hair and a gaunt expression, Andrea Riseborough is a ghostly on-screen presence. Due to the nature of her character, she gives a very internalised performance, alone with her damage and suffering. Taking centre stage during the hit at the heart of the story, Abbott is excellent. He’s been a solid regular on the sidelines of big films for a while, so it’s good to see him excel in a meatier role for a change. Tuppence Middleton, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Sean Bean make up the core of the stellar supporting cast, each giving relatively brief, but memorable turns.
Possessor is a visceral bloodbath of a thriller with scenes of perilous ultraviolence that’ll make you wince in the moment, but keep you thinking about them for days. Most definitely a chip off the old block, Cronenberg Jr.’s cinematic voice is alarmingly loud and demands your undivided attention.