Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Screenplay: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Country: Canada, United Kingdom
Running Time: 104 min
Year: 2020
BBFC Certificate: 18

Brandon Cronenberg’s made a name for himself over the past couple of years, filling the void of body horror that his father, David Cronenberg wasn’t really involved in until the release of 2022’s Crimes of the Future. So far, Brandon’s made three features and today, I’ll be looking at the second, Possessor, which was my first watch from him.

When I first saw Possessor back in 2020, I really enjoyed my time with it but over the years, it left my mind (which is ironic, considering what Possessor is about) so when Second Sight announced that they were releasing a boutique release of the film, packed with extras galore, as well as a UHD presentation, I had to jump at the chance to review it.

First things first, while Brandon shares a similar fascination with body horror, like his father, I think both are going for incredibly different vibes with their work. While David tends to focus on the human fascinations of transforming bodies, like The Fly, Videodrome, Crimes of the Future and eXistenZ, Brandon seems to focus more on the technological side of things. Possessor takes place in an alternate 2008, where things such as vaping are commonplace in this reality, and we follow Tasya (Andrea Riseborough), a contract killer who uses a piece of technology that allows her to take control of other people to complete the contracts. 

The premise is a great excuse to have top-notch practical effects on display, opening with an assassination that’s gnarly in approach and ends with the possessed person committing suicide due to Tasya’s actions. That’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the violent content in the film, which I won’t spoil here but there’s bound to be multiple sequences that will gain an audible reaction out of you. Trust me, even on a rewatch, I was pretty shocked by what’s on display. Another thing to note is that Second Sight’s release contains the uncut version of the film, which caused quite a stir in North America, due to the extreme sexual and violent nature of the picture. 

As the film progresses, we’re treated to a truly fascinating universe that I’d love to explore, in a slightly more fascinating narrative. Don’t get me wrong, an assassin that hijacks other people to perform her contracts is a great premise, but Tasya’s characterisation leaves a lot to be desired overall. 

Tasya ends up possessing Colin (Christopher Abbott) in order to take out a high profile target, but it doesn’t quite go to plan and the main conflict of the film begins. Tasya’s struggle to retain control of Colin is an interesting one on paper, but I found myself mostly impressed by the stunning visuals (thanks to cinematographer Karim Hussain) and the universe that Cronenberg’s created. The initial hijacking scene involving Colin is mind-bending, trippy and reminiscent of what Brandon was doing on his short film Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You, which is included on this release (I’d highly recommend giving it a watch) and if there’s one thing you’ll come away from this film feeling, it’s the potential for a classic from this man. 

As it stands, I really like Possessor, perhaps not as much as my initial viewing but when it succeeds at what it’s going for, it’s a sensory marvel. At its worst, it suffers from rough pacing and a generally messy sophomore feature. Still, I’ll take an ambitious effort over something that’s generic, lazy and phoned in, which Possessor absolutely isn’t. 

It won’t be for everyone, with the violence and sexual content perhaps being too much for some viewers, but if you’re willing to dive into the weird psychological nightmare of a world that director Brandon Cronenberg has cooked up, it’ll be an experience unlike any other. 

Film:

Possessor releases on Limited Edition UHD + Bluray, as well as standard UHD and Blu-ray via Second Sight Films on the 18th March. I viewed the UHD disc, and it looks outstanding. Given the variety of ways the film was shot, there’s moments where the image doesn’t look as crisp as tons of reference material out there, but the Dolby Vision grade is outstanding and makes the vibrant colour palette of the film pop better than it ever did on Blu-ray. Audio wise, it’s an English DTS MA 5.1 track and it’s up there as one of the best for a modern film. English HOH subtitles are included too. On an A/V level, this is the best the film could possibly look and breathes new life into a film that’s only a few years old. The following extras are included: 

Dual format edition including both UHD and Blu-ray with main feature and bonus features on both discs

UHD presented in Dolby Vision HDR approved by Director Brandon Cronenberg and Director of Photography Karim Hussain

New audio commentary by Brandon Cronenberg, Producer Rob Cotterill, Karim Hussain and Special Effects Artist Dan Martin

This Unfamiliar Life: a new interview with Brandon Cronenberg

Inside the Machine: a new interview with Karim Hussain

Feel the Real: a new interview with Rob Cotterill

Disassociating from Mind and Body: Zoë Rose Smith on Possessor

Camera Test Footage

FX Show and Tell with Dan Martin

Archive featurette: A Heightened World – A Look at Possessor

Archive featurette: Identity Crisis – Bringing Possessor to Life

Archive featurette: The Joy of Practical – The Effects of Possessor

Deleted Scenes

Short Film: Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You

Trailer

Limited Edition Contents

Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Marko Manev

120-page book featuring extensive behind the scenes gallery, script-to-screen comparisons, new essays by Stacey Abbott, Anton Bitel, Jon Towlson and Heather Wixson

6 collectors’ art cards 

The audio commentary with Brandon Cronenberg, Rob Cotterill, Karim Hussain and Dan Martin is exclusive to this release and it’s a fun listen. The group recount the film’s shoot, given that it was shot five years prior to the recording and touch on how certain special effects were brought to life, some of the issues that happened during the shoot and more. The commentary seems to have been recorded via Zoom, as Cronenberg’s audio sounds a little tinny, but it’s not a huge issue. Overall, a solid audio commentary. 

This Unfamiliar Life is a new 21 minute interview with Brandon Cronenberg, exclusive to this release and Cronenberg is candid about his prior film Antiviral, before touching on the short film Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You being a precursor for what he’d eventually end up doing with Possessor. He speaks highly about everybody involved in the production, and Brandon’s enthusiasm for the project as a whole is infectious. This interview is absolutely worth a watch.

Inside the Machine is a brand new 27 minute interview with director of photography Karim Hussain, exclusive to this release. Hussain shot Brandon’s first film Antiviral and discusses being a collaborative partner with him on all three of his features to date. He also talks about the short film Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You which he shot for Brandon, as well as the production of Possessor in general. Hearing him touch on the challenges of getting certain shots was fascinating, and it makes for a good interview.

Feel the Real is a brand new 24 minute interview with producer Rob Cotterill, exclusive to this release. Cotterill discusses his past working with Brandon Cronenberg on his prior feature Antiviral, as well as his work on Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun, being part of his production company Yer Dead Productions. Cotterill is an engaging listen and hearing him touch on the production is worth checking out.

Disassociating from Mind and Body is a brand new 25 minute video essay by Zoë Rose Smith on Possessor. It’s one of the most in-depth essays I’ve seen on a recent boutique release, and it dives into the themes of Possessor better than I ever could, with Rose Smith’s engaging video essay making a great pairing with the Leigh Singer essay included on Second Sight’s Crimes of the Future release. A great watch.

Camera test footage is included, this runs for 6 minutes and includes early tests for the hallucination camera effects shot in 2016, as well as some pre-production camera tests from 2019. 

FX Show and Tell with Dan Martin is a 10 minute featurette showcasing special effects artist Dan Martin and his work on Possessor, that’s an interesting watch and a nice inclusion to the release.

Three archival featurettes are included: A Heightened World, Identity Crisis and The Joy of Practical, and they add up to around 37 minutes. Watching them back-to-back almost feels like a mini making-of documentary that covers all aspects of the production, from the special effects to the look of the film. It’s great to see these ported over from the past Signature Blu-ray release.

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You is a ten minute short film directed by Brandon Cronenberg and shot by his regular cinematographer Karim Hussain, and follows a woman who relives her dreams thanks to some Cronenbergian technology. Bizarrely, this might be my favourite film from Brandon yet, as it’s to the point, creative, absolutely stunning to look at and doesn’t out-stay its welcome. A must watch.

Three deleted scenes that run for eight minutes and a trailer are included.

I wasn’t provided with the booklet, art cards or other limited edition goodies unfortunately, but I assume it’s up to the same high quality standards as past Second Sight limited editions.

Second Sight’s release of Possessor is packed to the brim with bonus features that compliment the feature extremely well, as well as a stunning audio/visual presentation on the film itself. The film won’t win over everyone, but for fans of body horror, science fiction, Cronenberg (either one!) and trippy visuals, this is a must-own release.

Disc/Package:

Where to watch Possessor
Possessor - Second Sight Films
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