Sundance 2020: Did “Possessor” Director And Cinematographer Reinvent The Genre Of Horror?

Andrea Riseborough appears in “Possessor,” by Brandon Cronenberg, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Karim Hussain.

Brandon Cronenberg may be virtually unknown to mainstream moviegoers, but connoisseurs of the horror genre are in for a disturbingly delicious treat with “Possessor,” a no-holds-barred psychological slasher film that questions both our humanity and the predator within.

While Italian horror genius Dario Argento is rightfully dubbed the “Master of the Thrill,” Cronenberg’s second feature offers something far more powerful and lurid, a more violent ride than even the great Argento could never muster. In fact, here is a film that may be brave enough to reinvent the horror genre, showcasing a singular vision that shines brightly through a splattering of blood and gore.

 

 

This may sound all too familiar. After all, Brandon is the son of body-horror genre king David Cronenberg. But here he separates himself admirably from his father’s renowned body of work.

Bold and spirited, “Possessor” is the story of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a contract killer capable of implanting her consciousness into others. After taking out victims, she escapes from her host by forcing them to commit suicide: clean and easy, it’s the perfect crime.

Director Brandon Cronenberg introduces the World Premiere of “Possessor”, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Jemal Countess.

Renowned for her prowess and skills, Vos is recruited regularly, but the process has its drawbacks. Every time she returns to her body, she must reset and recalibrate to remember exactly who she is. Somehow aware that she is losing her grip on reality, Vos tries to connect with her estranged husband and child, but even here she rehearses her reactions to appear normal.

Vos becomes increasingly violent on her missions, using more blunt force and savagery than is necessary to kill her prey. She eventually spins out of control after inhabiting the body and mind of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a man about to marry into a wealthy family, suffering a physical and mental breakdown that leaves her stuck inside her host. Meanwhile, Colin fights to regain his consciousness, while Vos wrestles to get free.

“Possessor” strikes an effective balance between intellectuality and brutality, using extreme gore to underline its narrative. As a result, “Possessor” makes an impressive statement, one in which audiences will be equally appalled and amazed. Either way, the film wins. As Argento once said: “I like when people are disgusted because it means you’ve made an impression on them. A deep impression…”

A still from “Possessor” by Brandon Cronenberg, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Karim Hussain.

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