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‘…should preface greater things to come from the Cronenberg brand…’


‘I temporarily suspended the host,’ is a good sample of the kind of deadpan techno-babble dialogue you should expect from an out-there elevated-genre piece like Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, an outlandish, ridiculous, uber-glam, frequently utterly repellent sci-fi thriller that’s designed to keep you on edge for hours before it returns to haunt your dreams. David Cronenberg’s 70’s and 80’s output generated plenty of shock and awe from censors, tabloids and audiences back in the day, and son Brandon is a chip off the old block if that block happens to be constructed from razor-blades, crushed body parts and malformed alien genitalia.

Possessor is probably better experienced then written about, and it takes a bit of legwork to decipher what you’ve seen; I’ll do the heavy lifting for you. Andrea Riseborough plays assassin Tasya Vos, who gets inside/possesses her victims and commits murders which benefits her sinister, unknown sponsors, represented by retired possessor Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Vos is enlisted to get inside the head of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), who is romantically involved with Ava (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of sinister data-mining CEO John Parse (Sean Bean). Vos has a mission to kill Parse, but things don’t go to plan and soon Vos and Tate are fighting for control of the same body.

In a way, there’s something retro and seductive about a film so firmly resolved to provide a shock to the system; leaving aside the bursts of graphic, semi-hardcore sex, the violence in this film is truly unpleasant to behold. Possessor is an ordeal to watch, steamrollering through various taboos including violence towards children; if you don’t like seeing people put live guns in their mouths, then you’ll want to skip more than a handful of scenes here. But this isn’t empty headed nihilism; the acting is good, the look is hypnotic, and there’s a modern story about voyeurism and personal privacy that’s worth decoding.

Possessor is a slippery film to nail down; it’s almost unwatchable due to extreme look-away-now gore, and yet it’s also enjoyable as a pulpy, if ludicrous sci-fi thriller. It’s certainly a challenge at a time when few films dare, and will be adored by those with the stomach for it; those of a delicate disposition should steer clear. With all trigger-warnings attached, this is an auspicious second film, and should preface greater things to come from the Cronenberg brand.

Thanks to Signature for access to this film.

Signature Entertainment presents Possessor on Digital HD 1 February and Blu-ray and DVD 8 February 2021


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  1. I loved this film – yes, it’s really difficult to watch in (many) places, but it has a real intelligence behind it.

    Although the violence is very much in-your-face (a term very fitting for this movie), I saw an interview with Brandon Cronenberg where he said it was far more responsible to show the extremity of violence up close and be honest about it than try to downplay it. Well, he certainly followed through with that perspective!

    • He certainly did! A review really has a responsibility to warn the unwary, but if you can handle the violence, this is a striking, uncompromising thriller, and would have been a proper cinema experience. Hopefully it still will…

      • Possessor did get a very limited cinema release – I saw it at the BFI Southbank in mid-December and I think it might have also played briefly at the Prince Charles, literally days before all the cinemas closed again. I wanted to catch it on the big screen even though I’d watched it barely two months previously. You’re right, it was a real experience and I hope it gets a wider release so more people can experience it.

    • It’s a mind-melter. Daring, unexpected, yes, but dodn’t be surprised if you can’t watch bits of this, deep horror violence.

  2. This looks a little bit more up my alley so-to-speak. However, how hard would it be to get the film company to front me a copy in exchange for an honest review? Just this once, I’m not trying to steal your thunder. 🤠 ha,ha.

    • Although I do deal directly with film companies and even film-makers, in general, your first port of call is whoever is marketing the film in your territory; I’m in the UK, but thet’ll be Neon/ Well Go USA if you’re in the States. Drop them a polite inquiry email and see if they’re willing to give you screener access based on your blog.

    • I think this idea could be treated in a way that would bring Matrix fans and sci-fi junkies onboard, as well as yourself, but my review is intended to keep away the casual viewer; I had to take a rest watching this, such is the oppressive, disturbing quality…

    • I can imagine the shelves of your local library will be groaning with this, but make sure you have something to hide behind, this makes Gaspar Noe look positively restrained…

        • If you want to make an appointment, you can possess me from 8pm to 10pm and I’ll watch it for you, and then we can fight for contro of my body afterwards, then Jennifer Jason Leigh will give you a picture of a buttterfly and your head will explode. That sound managable?

            • Man, this film makes you nostalgic for old-school exploding heads, which are much more palatable than what’s here…but you can’t ignore his father’s influence. This is as shocking now as Scanners or The Brood were back in the day…

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