‘Possessor’ Review: It’s by a Cronenberg, but Not the One You Think

“Possessor,” about an assassin who works by taking over the mind and body of someone who can get close to the victim without suspicion, could have sprung from the imagination of David Cronenberg and, like his early films, “Possessor” is equal parts cerebral and visceral. But this film is the work of the writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, his son. It depicts horrific murders in appalling detail as it relentlessly interrogates the experience of inhabiting a foreign body.

Andrea Riseborough’s ashen, anxious Tasya works for a mysterious contract-killing outfit. Her latest assignment is taking out the corporate boor John Parse (Sean Bean).

To achieve her aim, Tasya is sent, via creepy looking (and largely analog, it seems) tech, into the corporeal form of the fiancé of Parse’s daughter, the haunted-looking Colin (Christopher Abbott).

But she gets stuck inside Colin, and Colin’s consciousness gains the upper hand. Or not. The coordinators of the assassination bureau watching over Tasya (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, who starred in the elder Cronenberg’s similarly themed but more playful 1999 “eXistenZ”) have to work it out — as does the viewer.

While this is only his second feature, Brandon Cronenberg has already achieved a formal sophistication that he uses to drive down the movie’s emotional temperature to a very precise chilliness

“Possessor” is a shocking work that moves from disquieting to stressful with ruthless dispatch. Just as Colin can’t put a finger on a pulsating white granule that vibrates in front of him, the viewer may go fuzzy trying to figure out where the director is coming from. That is, whether this film’s perspective is nihilist, or if “Possessor” is, rather, a morally neutral exploration of the worst extremes of existential anxiety. That ambiguity is part of Cronenberg’s design.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In select theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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