David Cronenberg is widely regarded as one of the most provocative directors of our generation. He was responsible for directing some of the most influential body horror films of the 1980s, including Videodrome, Scanners, and The Fly. Based on that resume alone, it was hard not to be excited for his son Brandon’s sophomore effort, Possessor. A film that oozed homages to his father’s work while showing his vision.
Possessor’s narrative focus is on Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a corporate agent in a dystopian age who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies to conduct assassinations benefiting an organization headed by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Despite her talent at taking over these bodies and performing these assassinations, Tasya suffers from a moral conflict and decides to do one last job. After that, she wants to do everything she can to suppress these violent memories and urges.
Although he pays homage to his father’s work, Brandon Cronenberg’s script evokes a strong sense of originality. It’s methodical, cerebral, and with its striking visuals and gruesome violence, the film is sure to be living rent-free in cinephiles’ minds as it’ll leave a lot to think about long past the credits. While the violence is gruesome, Cronenberg’s restraint from making it a crutch used in his movie should be commended. Rather than a “gore-porn” film, Cronenberg examines the mind on the verge of losing control.
Cronenberg never has his vision mettled with, and it’s evident with the film’s ending. The conclusion of the film will no doubt have social media a buzz and hashtagging against the director. However, credit should be given to him for taking the risk of going full-throttle on the film’s end and not caring, even if it turns off some cinephiles.
While the film’s focus is on Tasya, Possessor’s best and standout performance goes to Christopher Abbot. Abbot exudes a sense of comfort and quietness. At the same time, an aura of menace hangs over him as he embodies Tasya/Colin Tate as the film turns into a fever-induced nightmare in a haunting and menacing performance, which cinephiles will praise his take as one of the surprising horror performances of the year.
Karim Hussain’s cinematography is breathtaking. The use of a multi-color pallet through the film’s descent into madness makes it one of the year’s best shot films. Rather than following horror tropes of “evil comes out at night,” Cronenberg’s choice to have many of its pivotal moments during the day. It was captured beautifully by Hussain. It cemented the concept of horrors being prevalent at all times of the day.
Aiding Hussain’s gorgeous cinematography is Jim Williams’ chilling score. Prevalent during its most visually stunning moments, Williams’ score is chill-inducing while adding to the atmospheric horror created on the screen.
While there is nothing wrong with being compared to a master of body horror, Possessor removes Cronenberg from his father’s shadow to show an original, provocative, and ambitious auteur in not just one of the 2020’s best horror films, but best movies of the year overall.