Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Rossif Sutherland, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rated: R for violence, coarse language, and nudity
Runtime: 104 minutes
Now playing at Scotiabank Theatre and running Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 2-4) at the Landmark Centre Cinemas during the Edmonton International Film Festival, available digital and on-demand on December 1
It must be tough to execute a modern horror while still keeping an intelligent edge to it, or at least an interesting one that can carry the premise. Brandon Cronenberg is doing his damndest to hone that edge with this, his sophomore effort. Perhaps you’ll recall his freshman film: the unsettling sterile Antiviral.
Now he brings us this visceral perplexer called Possessor Uncut. Trippy at times and speckled with enough cool effects to make dead dad proud, PU begins with a lot of blood and gets bloodier and ickier from there. It’s an unsettling and difficult watch, perhaps as unsettling and difficult as it seems to be for the main character and the task set out for her.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a unique kind of secret agent. She works for a strange company that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people's bodies – ultimately driving them (in the same sense as driving a car) to commit assassinations on a pay-for-hire basis. The film starts with her completing one assignment, which always involves ensuring that she keeps her sense of self strong. There’s an inkling of doubt there, but not enough for her or her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to send her in for a big contract. The stakes are high and no mistakes are permitted. As you might guess, things don’t go smoothly. Experiencing hallucinations and other tricks of the mind are the least of Vos’ worries.
Possessor Uncut comes off as similar to Matrix, Avatar or Inception but only as a distant cousin perhaps. Tasya might get to infiltrate someone else’s mind in much the same way that Inception’s Cobb did but here she actually gets full control over the flesh. The purpose is assassination in the costume of someone else’s body. The problem is that the takeover is tenuous and one must always be mindful of who you are and who your disguise is.
It is indeed a visual feast and not an easy one to watch through and through. There are some troubling visuals and there probably should be a huge trigger warning on the label too. Cronenberg might have a big name to live up to and big shoes to fill as well. He doesn’t need to worry there. He’s doing just fine, carving out his own niche in cinema. Perhaps the biggest criticism is the languorous pace that this one trods for too much of the film’s runtime. It does make up for it with its moments of the character’s accomplishing her goal and the visceral visuals that are at once beautiful, powerful and original even, and then completely horrid and revolting.
One hopes that this still-fledgling auteur doesn’t simply saunter down the easy path to crank out crummy horrors as so many others have done. He’s got far too much that’s interesting in his two works and far too much that hints at what he still has yet to reveal.