In 2012, celebrated filmmaker David Cronenberg’s son Brandon burst onto the scene with his directorial debut Antiviral, a blackly satirical sci-fi horror that debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. With gruesome morbidity, the film evoked the early work of his father’s early work. Now, eight years on, Brandon Cronenberg is back with one of the darkest – and best – films of the year.
The film is built around the harrowing concept that, in the near future, assassins will be able to implant their consciousness into other people’s bodies with brain-implant technology to execute their targets. Andrea Riseborough is Vos, the titular possessor, embarking on the biggest mission of her career. One of the best in her business, she has become estranged from her family and seemingly detached from genuine emotion. When she becomes trapped inside the mind of her host (Christopher Abbott), whose subsumed consciousness begins to fight back, a psychic battle ensues. To say much more about the film would threaten to spoil it; suffice to say, what begins as a rather standard sci-fi premise soon becomes an incredibly complex and grisly experience.
Possessor is a harrowingly hypnotic journey filled with brutal violence, disturbing visuals and a truly unsettling sound design that creeps under your skin just like the titular possessor. The film is, at times, undeniably horrifying. But the film’s clinical and cold delivery does threaten to lessen some of the impact – the more psychological horrors of the film are often understated, with the ensuing extreme violence often failing to truly affect the viewer as presumably intended, due to a lack of emotional or psychological substance behind it. This is in keeping with the protagonist’s detached approach to her work – and contrasted by the chilling performance by Abbott as her host that begins to comprehend the horrors he is experiencing and fight back – but it does begin to desensitise the audience to the violence, weakening the harrowing impact of the brutal climax.
But, on the whole, Possessor is unlike anything you’ve seen since the early years of papa Cronenberg’s career. Visually and thematically, the film is an absolute masterpiece of the genres it hybridises, and the result is certainly one of the finest sci-fi horrors in years. This is a chilling piece of work that cements Brandon’s place as the new Cronenberg in town. Startlingly original and unforgettably visceral, Possessor is an experience like no other, and one of the best films of 2020.
Possessor is on digital platforms 27 November from Signature Entertainment