'Possessor' Review: Brandon Cronenberg's Ultra-Violent Thriller Is Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before [Sundance 2020]

Bathed in blood and gore and unrelentingly aggressive, Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor is unlike anything you've ever seen before. It is a singular work – one so ghastly, so unique, and so brutal that it will awe some and disgust others. It is a film about extinguishing humanity and embracing savagery. The philosophy of Possessor is one of carnage. Of cutting ties with the things that make you human, and reverting back to the predator within.

Set in a cold world that blends futuristic tech with a vintage aesthetic, Possessor is the story of a woman who gets in people's heads. Literally. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a contract killer, but she doesn't operate in a normal fashion. In fact, she technically never kills anyone at all. Instead, she works for a company that has found a way to implant Vos's consciousness into others. Once hired for a job, she inhabits a subject's body then commits murder for hire, and then makes an easy escape by forcing the subject to kill themselves. It's the perfect crime, and Vos has it down to a science. She's like a great actor who studies their subjects to get into character. We watch her watching the people she's soon to possess, repeating their sentences as if she were rehearsing lines.

Vos is thought of as the best agent in the business, but she's showing signs of instability. Her murders have become notably more savage, and yet she still longs for some semblance of a normal life with her estranged husband and child. She even considers taking some time off to reconnect with them, but then quickly changes her mind and accepts a new gig.

It requires her to inhabit the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a young man about to marry into a wealthy family. The plan is to have Colin murder his future father-in-law and his bride to be in order for another party to inherit a fortune, and after some maneuvering, Vos is soon inside Colin's mind and body. She's controlling him, but she finds herself struggling with the assignment as she succumbs to debilitating mental attacks that Cronenberg displays with flashing, strobing, nightmarish imagery.

Meanwhile, the real Colin is still somewhere inside, and an event eventually transpires where Colin struggles to regain control of himself while Vos fights to wake up. One can draw connections from this premise to films like Inception, but Cronenberg is operating on a completely different level. This isn't a work designed to thrill and entertain. Instead, it's meticulously crafted to horrify. The violence on display here is graphic to the extreme, yet it never feels cartoonish. This isn't horror movie gore, it's something else – full of close-ups of horrific stab wounds, teeth being ground out of bleeding mouths, and bodies completely obliterated beyond human recognition. Is Possessor celebrating this brutality, or glorifying it? No. It's merely underscoring it, and showing us how inhumane human beings can be.

Riseborough is predictably great as Vos, a killer struggling against her nature, but Possessor puts Abbott front and center. This tricky performance requires the actor to be both his own character and also Risbeborough's character inhabiting his body. Abbott is at first cool and collected before descending into sweaty, desperate panic.

The events of Possessor embrace body horror, implying that a penchant for such a thing runs in the Cronenberg family – Brandon is the son of David. But the son isn't mimicking the father here. He's operating on his own level. The younger Cronenberg has already shown talent with the nasty Antiviral, but Possessor feels like the work of someone fully coming into their own. Cronenberg's direction is precise and controlled, full of tight framing. Even when blood isn't splashing across the screen, we're still uneasy.

As Possessor draws to a heart-stopping climax, it leaves its mark on the viewer. There will no doubt be plenty of viewers appalled and repulsed at what Cronenberg has created here, and that's fine. Possessor is not a film for everyone. And that's what makes it so special and exciting.

/Film Rating: 10 out of 10