Possessor Uncut review — Ruthless and brilliant horror sci-fi

Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg | 103 min | Crave Plus

Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature is a bloody marvel of nightmare fuel.

I enjoyed Cronenberg’s first, AntiViral, but, like a lot of people, I’m sure, I drew a lazy parallel or two between his work and his well-known, body-horror-loving daddy, the legendary David. This time out, Brandon Cronenberg has taken a quantum slide out of his father’s shadow into a fresh universe of terror, and it’s a wonder to see.

Possessor  — its theatrical release apparently different and perhaps bloodier than the version that played at Sundance earlier this year — manages a fine balance between science-fiction concepts and grim and gory horror, probably the chilliest amalgam of the genres I’ve experienced since Under The Skin, with an added dash of espionage thriller for good measure.

In it, Tasya Vos (the chameleonic Andrea Riseborough, who I saw last in Mandy, but she’s been busy elsewhere, too) is the perfect assassin. Via some kind of digital -analog amalgam brain tech she’s able to ‘port into the head of an unwilling host, wear their body like a suit and drive it around. She kills, then jumps back into her own unhappy self.

Her bureau controller, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is concerned about her health. Turns out there are risks to the psyche if you spend too much time wandering around inside someone else’s flesh, and who knows what all that stabbing might do to a person.

Vos is married, but separated. She’s repairing her relationship with her ex (Rossif Sutherland, another son of a Canadian screen icon) and child, but she has to rehearse to seem normal with them. She has to practice to get back to herself.

Her key assignment is to take over Colin (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of Ava (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of a data-mining magnate, Parse (Sean Bean). Colin was given an entry-level gig working for Parse’s company, examining the curtains of people who use his app. It’s so mundane it’s a little hard to believe some algorithm wouldn’t do it better and faster, but the cubicle farms of the future are certain to be no less humiliating than they are now.

Vos’s assignment: murder Parse and Ava. But as soon as Vos arrives in Colin’s body, she begins to feel out of sorts, out of control. The identities merge, fight for control.

Cronenberg’s immersive visual sense drops us into this dream world and locks us there, but the walls and mirrors shatter into shards the longer we linger. This isn’t a film that dials back its commitment to its vision the deeper in we go. Quite the opposite, it draws blood. As the two characters become one, everyone around them is a potential victim of their internal violence spilling out, spilling over.

I did struggle a little with what the film is really about — beyond the fear of losing one’s sense of self —  but I’m happy for future visits to Cronenberg’s Toronto-set fragmented dystopia to better understand. This has to be the creepiest vision of the city since Enemy.

I’m just gonna leave this here: If this became a series, an anthology of body-‘porting assassins navigating this world of false faces, a horror-based Mission: Impossible, I’d be all over it.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.