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Sundance 2020: Possessor Review: Grotesquely beautiful sci fi horror from a familiar name
A still from <i>Possessor</i> 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.

Movie Reviews

Sundance 2020: Possessor Review: Grotesquely beautiful sci fi horror from a familiar name

‘Possessor’ is over the top in its storytelling and visuals.

Establishing a name is one of the most difficult things for a director to do. This is doubly difficult when they are the son of one of the most iconic director’s of all time. Over the years, Brandon Cronenberg has shown he is a strong enough creator to be judged on his own merits. While there are some obvious inspirations, his latest movie further showcases his talents.


Possessor is a science-fiction horror movie starring Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) and Christopher Abbot (It Comes at Night). Tasya Vos (Riseborough) is a killer for hire who uses advanced technology to fulfill her contracts. Each time Tasya accepts a job she runs the risk of losing herself. Rasta’s latest hit has those closest to her worried whether she has given up too much of herself.

Cronenberg’s second feature is a beautiful movie. His previous film Antiviral was intentionally sterile in appearance. His latest is the exact opposite. Filled with vivid colors, the movie pops off the screen. Deep oranges and blues accentuate the terror on the screen. Hearkening back to the giallo of the 1970s, the movie has an old school aesthetic with modern sensibilities.

The great direction is not just limited to neon splashed moments, however. Cronenberg does an excellent job framing scenes. Building exteriors are shot in a way that shows off the coldness of the world Tasya inhabits. There is a starkness to them that makes the audience realize how lifeless the world can be. This is contrasted by the opulence of parties and the richness of Possessor’s hallucination scenes. The film throws a variety of images out for consumption.

Sundance 2020: Possessor Review: Grotesquely beautiful sci fi horror from a familiar name

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.

Right next to all the breath taking shots is the twisted vision of Cronenberg. For all its beauty, Possessor is a gory film. The opening sequence sees Tasya (kind of) stick a wire into her heard before she eliminates a target in shockingly brutal fashion. This continues throughout the movie. Deaths are a visceral experience that the audience are drawn into. Even those who die off screen are later seen in pools of blood with gaping wounds.

The extreme nature of the movie is not just left to violence either. Horror and sex have been married to each other from the beginning. Possessor is no different as the over the top nature of the film includes graphic sexuality. What Cronenberg does so well is he never makes anything seem superfluous. The story deals with extremes and by its nature should push boundaries. Even in its most shocking moments, the movie continues to captivate.

(As a side note, there was a warning given before the movie was screened. It seems destined to be given the dreaded NC-17 rating.)

Sundance 2020: Possessor Review: Grotesquely beautiful sci fi horror from a familiar name

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.

Possessor has great special effects. In an era in which CGI continues to get more impressive, it is refreshing to see a movie that relies so much on practical effects. By going this route, Cronenberg adds a weightiness to the film that would otherwise have not been there. Everything looks a little more brutal and terrifying. It is also an interesting dichotomy to see so much manual labor in a movie that has such a large focus on technology.

Brandon Cronenberg’s latest output is a mind bending science fiction horror film. Possessor is gorgeously shot with amazing colors and great settings. The movie is over the top in its storytelling and visuals, but is also enriched by the brazenness of it all. The twisting story is open to interpretation and will impress even those who do not care for the genre.

Possessor (2020)
Is it good?
An absolute head trip that has this much going on should not work. Audiences will admire its beauty as they try not to look away.
Great use of color
Great direction
Engaging story
Some will be turned off by the extreme violence
8.5
Great

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