Brandon Cronenberg is a chip off the old block. Only this block is mottled, bumpy, randomly hairy, and with teeth where no teeth should be.
It takes balls to define your film career in the place that your father pretty much created, and with Possessor, Brandon does one better, as he fully casts the shadow of his father, David, off for good.
Much like Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, Brandon Cronenberg’s early work is far superior to that of his father. I recently watched, Rabid, Scanners, and The Brood, and I can confidently say that Possessor wipes the floor with all of them. The quality and creative energy in Possessor will also silence most critics claiming Hollywood nepotism; for one, both this film, and Cronenberg’s debut, Antiviral, are largely Canadian productions, so that argument never held much water (or maple syrup) in the first place.
Possessor is one of the rarest of cinematic achievements: a great sci-fi horror film. These two genres are hard to mix together (the best example is Alien, but there are far more Event Horizon’s and Dooms to pull the genre right back down again), but Cronenberg’s approach recalls the best of Black Mirror as we start off with a straight science fiction film only for the horror to invade and possess proceedings.
The plot is a pulpy delight: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, a hired killer who, through state of the art technology, is able to possess people in order to carry out assassinations. It’s the kind of tech idea that would feel at home in the Inception universe; the only draw-back is that Tasya’s consciousness is starting to fracture, which gets even more complicated when she possesses Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) who will act as a patsy in the murder of his girlfriend and wealthy father, played by a exceptionally and delightfully arrogant Sean Bean.
But the best thing about this movie is the way it explores all-too-familiar horrors of the near future – best explored in a small vignette in which, post-possession, Tasya as Colin goes to work. His job is data-mining taken a couple of steps further. He wears the jumpsuit of a factory worker or mechanic, and joins his fellow employees at his computer terminal. He puts on a VR headset and all of a sudden he is in a beautiful office with floor to ceiling windows looking out on an idyllic forest view. It looks as fake as it is, and has the stink of a boss trying to trick his or her employees into better productivity. It’s basically a version of silly hat day. You don’t need to get promoted to the corner office because you already have one. It gets weirder form there as Tasya/Colin accesses webcams and phone cameras where we see a women cleaning up, a child playing with the front-facing camera, and a naked couple just about to have sex. What’s the point of all this? To find out about their curtains and drapes, specifically the type, and color. That’s it. Your privacy is being breached for curtains.
Dressing horror in the neon clothes of science fiction is by no means new, but it’s certainly where Brandon Cronenberg thrives. His previous film, Antiviral, took obsession with celebrity culture and turned it completely monstrous, but Possessor, though it has plenty of moments that had me shouting “oh no, Brandon, that’s disgusting!”, is much more cerebral in the terrors of our near future.
Possessor should be the film that makes Brandon Cronenberg a star. He’s two for two with this and Antiviral, but Possessor is such a huge step forward and one of my favorite films of the year.
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By Kevin Boyle
Header Image: Indiewire