The new Brandon Cronenberg isn't for everyone, but it is one of the best films of the year
One of the best films of the year came out last week, but I wouldn’t have recommended watching it then.
I first saw “Possessor: Uncut” a month or so ago at the South Drive-In. It was the first new release movie I’d watched with other human beings since March, for reasons that should be obvious, especially this week, especially in Ohio.
It arrived on VOD services on… Election Day. Not the day I’d recommend a sci-fi/horror mindbender that’s hard to watch under even the best of circumstances. So now that our circumstances are, shall we say, better, here’s a chance to take a ride.
The latest film from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg is a heady, hyperviolent head-trip in all the best and worst ways. It’s not an easy film to watch. It is, as I often say in this space, not for everyone.You know what is for everyone? Our daily newsletter. Sign up here.
Set in an alternate recent present where some technologies have diverged, it’s not some near-future dystopia. Rather, it’s a version of a reality not worlds away.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an elite assassin working for big corporate interests. She completes her job via technologies that essentially allow her to take control of the bodies and minds of other people, giving her deep access to trusted people close to her targets.
We’re introduced to this concept early in the first of several brutally violent scenes that evoke the famous Simpsons meme: "Stop, stop! He’s already dead!"
After the mission, Vos debriefs with her boss, Girder (a magnificently cast Jennifer Jason Leigh), before we get a glimpse of her home life with her estranged partner and their child. It’s clear her violent profession has affected her. But she accepts her next gig. The target is the head of a massive data collection corporation, and her host is his future son-in-law (Christopher Abbott).
It’s worth noting that Brandon Cronenberg’s father is director David Cronenberg, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
But this isn’t typical Hollywood nepotism. The younger Cronenberg creates a singular and disturbing vision in “Possessor: Uncut.” And, yes, the “Uncut” is technically part of the title of this unrated-for-a-reason movie, although there’s an alternate R-rated cut out there.
Visually, “Possessor” is a masterpiece of technique, favoring old-school camera work and gorgeous cinematography courtesy Karim Hussain.
It builds a world that feels real but just seems… off. It’s an unsettling experience, and one where you need to have some level of comfort not knowing what’s going on.
The violence? It’s excessive but artful. This one’s not for the weak-of-stomach, though. Nor is the mind-bender plot going to be everyone’s cup of tea. As Riseborough and Abbott at times share a role, their performances are engaging even when you don’t quite know who is who or what is going on.
Cronenberg makes the most of his brain-possession concept and executes with more imagination than budget. I can’t wait to see his next trick.
And I’m so glad that one real existential threat is gone so we can watch this movie. Make dystopian nightmares films again.