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Possessor Uncut’ Combines Cerebral Sci-Fi, Visceral Horror

Brandon Cronenberg shares obvious DNA with his dad but also has unique voice

Photo credit: Neon

Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) after she leaves one of her surrogates in Brandon Cronenberg's "Possessor Uncut."

Companion viewing

"eXistenZ" (1999)

"Spider" (2002)

"Antiviral" (2012)

Brandon Cronenberg is the son of Canadian director David Cronenberg, the man who gave us "Videodrome" and "The Fly" remake. You can definitely see the family resemblance in Brandon’s sophomore feature “Possessor Uncut

With his first feature "Antiviral," Brandon Cronenberg announced himself as a bold new talent and his second feature "Possessor" doesn’t disappoint. Like his father, David Cronenberg, Brandon reveals a penchant for body horror, cerebral cinema, and unnerving his audience. But despite the shared DNA, Brandon displays a unique cinematic personality.

In the press notes for the film, Brandon Cronenberg explains the origins for his film: “It was a time when things were changing in my life very quickly and I was waking up feeling this sense of absence of familiarity — like I had to scramble to form some kind of identity that made sense in that context... I think a lot of people have those moments where either they feel like they need to play a character to present themselves or something shifts in their lives. So, on a personal and philosophical level, I thought that idea was interesting. I wanted to explore that in a sci-fi way.”

As with "Antiviral," "Possessor" doesn’t waste time explaining the creepy science fiction that sets the plot in motion because that's not really of interest. But he does need a means of exploring his themes so he has to invent a new technology. In this case it's a brain-implant technology that allows Tasya Vos (the amazing Andrea Riseborough) to operate as a corporate assassin by taking over the mind and body of an unwilling surrogate.

Photo credit: Neon

In Brandon Cronenberg's "Possessor Uncut" a brain implant technology allows Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) to take over a host body in order to operate as a corporate assassin.

The technology she uses has a bit of a Matrix vibe, with her body at a corporate lab overseen by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who monitors her condition and sometimes feeds her instructions. Vos takes over people who may be employees, friends or loved ones of the person she needs to kill. Each time she finishes a mission she goes through a debrief that seems to check if she is actually herself or if her host has left her with any lingering bits of their personalities. So she goes through personal objects and describes the memories they stir.

For her latest assignment she has taken over Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) in order to kill his girlfriend's father John Parse (Sean Bean). But this time her host seems more resistant and the line between Vos and Tate starts to blur.

"Possessor" taps into current anxiety about privacy issues and evil corporations but more disturbingly it digs deep into the human psyche to explore darker questions about identity. Both Vos and the audience seem to be figuring out who she is. At one point she awkwardly rehearsing bland lines to use with her son as if she is trying to play a role. But we also see her breaking from instructions for a simple, clean kill to engage in more savage violence to take out her targets. Is work causing her to become unhinged or is it just an excuse to release something she’s been suppressing?

Photo credit: Neon

Brandon Cronenberg (left) on the set of "Possessor Uncut."

"Possessor" is disturbing and relentless. It manages to be both cerebral and visceral, challenging us to think about how we define ourselves but also shocking us with sudden brutality.

There's also a satiric edge as it looks to the corporate world, and to the technology it creates and to what ends. Like his father, Brandon is an assured craftsman who pays meticulous attention to every detail. So production design, cinematography, editing, practical effects, performance and music are smartly and dynamically integrated. Cronenberg has an audaciously original cinematic style and an interest in provocative themes. That's a combination I find absolutely irresistible.

At one point the possessed Tate makes an analogy about a parasite entering a body and taking it over and suggests that parasite could also be an idea. Loss of identity, whether through invasive technology, mental illness or a parasite taking over a host are all terrifying possibilities and Cronenberg explores all of them in a brilliant and riveting manner.

But be forewarned, "Possessor" is not for the faint of heart. Experience it if you dare.

"Possessor" is now playing at the South Bay Drive-In but will also become available streaming.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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