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Review: Possessor Uncut

October 2, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Brandon Cronenberg, son of the famed Canadian director David Cronenberg, really does his father proud with his shot in Toronto second feature Possessor, a high concept thriller that offers a mix of graphic violence, graphic sex, and good old fashioned body horror.

It’s a potent combination that will be instantly familiar to fans of the elder Cronenberg’s work, and yet the younger Cronenberg still manages to carve out a cinematic voice that feels like his own, delivering something that is completely brutal but still artful.

Being released under the title Possessor Uncut, a nod to the fact that none of the film’s shocking violence has been edited out or censored by ratings boards following its premiere at Sundance, this is pulp for the arthouse crowd.

The film’s main character is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough). Vos is a contract killer who works for a mysterious organization that has people killed on behalf of high-paying clients. The twist is that they use brain implants to take over other people’s bodies in order to carry out the killings. She is considered by her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to be one of the best at what she does, but Vos wasn’t able to completely shed the previous identity that she inhabited, and has started to retain memories of the grisly stabbing that she carried out.

It’s not long before Vos is called in for another job, which involves entering the body of a young man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), who works for a software company owned by his father-in-law John Parse (Sean Bean). The plan is to stage a murder-suicide of his partner Ava (Tuppence Middleton) and her father, so someone else can take over the company. But things go awry, and the identities of Vos and Colin start to converge in bizarre ways.

While Riseborough is the film’s main character, it is Abbot who leaves the biggest impact, delivering an excellent and suitably intense performance. He is tasked with portraying a character who is no longer in control of his own body, and is incapable of purging himself of the unwelcome visitor taking up space in his head, and it’s a compelling turn by the actor.

The film plays out as a mix of science fiction and horror, punctuated by moments of grisly and extreme violence. It proves too much at times, including several graphic closeups of knives entering flesh, which many audience members will surely watch through their fingers. But the “uncut” part of the film’s title gives us a pretty good warning about what we are in for.

This is very much a genre piece, and yet the moody cinematography by Karim Hussain at times gives it the look and feel of a higher brow art film. Brandon Cronenberg shows real confidence as a filmmaker in the stylistic choices that he makes behind the camera, and Possessor Uncut plays with a hallucinogenic tone that gives it a dreamlike or, perhaps more appropriately, nightmarish feel. It’s an extreme film in a lot of ways, from its style and tone to its sickening violence, but fans of the Cronenberg brand are sure to find plenty about it rewarding as a cinematic experience.

Possessor Uncut is being released today in select theatres across Canada. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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