Brandon Cronenberg, the son of famous horror director David Cronenberg, continues his father's legacy - creating scary films that leave lasting, if not off-putting, impressions upon its viewers. Possessor, Brandon’s first film since 2012’s Antiviral, is an original story that doesn’t concern itself with the obvious morality issues its premise would suggest. Instead, Cronenberg uses this grisly tale to explore the human mental state and how its deterioration could lead to disastrous results.

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Bean. Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, who works as a unique assassin – she inhabits other people’s bodies in order to kill others. This is possible using a brain-implant technology and, although Tasya is very good at her job, the mental strain festering within her psyche will soon complicate her personal life and her latest mission. That latest mission tasks Tasya to inhabit the body of Colin Tate (Abbott) in order to assassinate Colin’s future father-in-law, John Parse (Bean).

Maybe the best film to reference is John Woo’s big-budget, body-swapping actioner Face/Off, where John Travolta and Nicolas Cage take turns hamming it up (well, at least Travolta does) as each other for 2 hours. It was full of Woo’s signature gunplay, explosions and lots of doves, while it did well commercially and critically. Possessor differs, though, in that it doesn’t waste time with surgery and physical transformation, and it jettisons the high-adrenaline action. In Possessor’s world, one’s consciousness is basically uploaded into a host and that consciousness proceeds to control that host. It’s up to that consciousness to walk, talk and act like the original host to keep up the ruse, so Tasya observes Colin to learn his mannerisms and speech patterns. Regardless of the job requirements, the mental strain Tasya’s experiencing causes a rift within Colin, leaving the two consciousnesses battling for control, all while the mission hangs in the balance.

One interesting thing to note is the throwback look of the technology. With old-looking dials and buttons controlling clunky and bulky equipment, Possessor looks like it takes place in the 80s. In addition, the environment surrounding the machinery is simple, yet gritty and dark - almost a nod to the preferred backdrops of David Cronenberg's best-known films. The throwback look gives the impression this technology isn’t refined or perfected, which opens up the possibility that anything could go wrong at any time. That's obviously Brandon’s intention – its results are outstanding and gory.

The images that Cronenberg presented are shocking. I don’t want to give anything away, but two of the more disturbing scenes don’t involve much blood. Take that as you will, but Brandon learned from one of the best – brutality and relentlessness are the norm with any project that involves a Cronenberg.

Because he is a Cronenberg, Brandon, too, has a knack for pushing comfort levels. Brandon uses Possessor to explore the mind and body in a way only a Cronenberg can – with relentless violence and other arresting imagery. Simultaneously, Cronenberg coaxes impeccable performances from his cast – a frail and jaded turn from Riseborough; stunning duality from Abbott; cold and calculated (which, not surprisingly, is Possessor's tone) leadership from Leigh (as Girder, Tasya’s boss and handler) and a mean, downright a-hole performance from Bean. All of it makes for an unforgettable film that would make papa proud.

Originally premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Brandon Cronenberg’s latest is available in select theaters and various streaming services.

4 stars out 5

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