The Cronenberg name carries an overbearing weight of expectation. For Brandon Cronenberg, son of the great David Cronenberg, everyone has one question: how much body horror does his new film have? A significant amount. Through the lens of an identity thriller, Brandon Cronenberg has come by it honestly, an invigorating breath of fresh air, radically examining a sense of self and what it means to exist within and outside our bodies. Possessor is an exhilarating masterwork, an exhalation of boundary-wrecking imaginative creation, a profound statement with philosophical depth, and the must-see horror event of the autumnal season.
Favorable comparisons to Dad aside, Brandon Cronenberg has now arrived as a fully formed original. Possessor is the genuine article and has its own distinct soul and sense of style. The direction is always crisp and surgically precise. Like a Doctor performing an operation, Cronenberg has dissected the horror genre, limb by limb, sawing off any excess and leaving only inspired, new choices, before tightly sewing it all up.
In the high-tech future hell of Toronto, Tasya Vos (an exceptional Andrea Riseborough) works for a shady corporation that takes over the lives of unsuspecting innocents. Through brain implants and monstrous H.R. Giger machines, the employees overtake victim’s bodies and drive them to commit assassinations for corporate benefit. Vos has been studying her next target, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, another generational talent), but when she takes possession, she finds herself unable to detach and living out a reality that threatens the very core of her own livelihood.
The possession play is ingenious. Both Riseborough and Abbott deserve career-best credits for their extreme commitment to these high-minded ideas. As their identities split and break within the system, it’s a pure joy of peerless, innovative body horror, unlike anything being made anymore. We follow Tate with wonder, as the very perception of self melts off his face — Vos and Tate meld into one another, become one, separate as they malfunction.
As the newly united duo goes about their day, Cronenberg lends fine-tuned social commentary. He masterfully explores relationships, as influenced by technology and the social capital it provides. At Tate’s work, his most cutting commentary emerges. His job is to sit at a virtual reality headset and watch fragments of people’s lives. The day she inhabits his body, the job is to identity curtains within videos of people living their lives. It’s a complete infrigement on cyber rights and an actualized criticism of capitalist systems. His job is a function of his girlfriend’s Dad, who’s pulled all the strings to get him the work. Cronenberg gets to work out any nepotistic frustrations later.
Possessor works within the framework of an understood concept-of-self. Grappling with large-scale ideas about how technology has changed our identities and how we engage and volunteer enough information to be formally replicated, it sharply pinches a nerve. Exploding with raw energy, any viewing could posit something wildly different, about intention, and what it all ultimately means. The greatest movies are always this way.
It’s a great loss in a year of losses, not getting to see Possessor on a big screen. It would be a perfect shared experience, guaranteeing deeply visceral responses, both shock, and awe, from a captive audience. Cronenberg employs lovely aesthetic tricks and it would surely look phenomenal at the theater, as it’s already among the greatest of aesthetic horror delights on a small one. Engineering creative horror is its own profound art, but Cronenberg has found an entirely fresh expression, gripping and guttural as can be.
The work establishes Cronenberg as a true innovator. If there were any questions, it answers all of them. It’s not just a bloody good time, and it is certainly that, but a deeply rewarding journey deconstructing the very concept of “self”. Possessor is a rush of blood to the head, a masterful, must-see horror for a year and season that could use nothing more.