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SYFY WIRE David Cronenberg

Sundance: 'Possessor' continues the Cronenberg legacy of body horror

By Andy Hunsaker

Legendary director David Cronenberg (The Fly, eXistenZ, Crash, Naked Lunch) has an ouevre so synonymous with disturbing body horror that he has an entire alternate universe of gross fleshy blob monsters named after him on Rick and Morty. His son, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg (Antiviral), is carrying on that legacy with his new film Possessor, which premiered this past weekend at Sundance.

Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough (Birdman, Oblivion) as Tasya Vos, a corporate espionage agent who takes control of the minds and bodies of strategic targets through the use of remote (and really grody) brain implants, in order to commit assassinations that can't be traced. Despite her talent at this process, the repeated traumatic experiences begin to take a hold on her, causing her to opt for ultraviolence over efficiency and to lose focus on which mind is hers and which is the mind of her victim, which in turn causes concern for her handler (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Brandon's graphic use of extreme violence is not meant as a cheap tactic, though.

"There are two things motivating the gore," he explained to the Sundance crowd, which included SYFY WIRE. "In general, I think violence and film should be explicit and visceral, because I find it more disturbing personally if it's very sanitized. People are dying, but you don't have an emotional reaction to it so as a more general rule, I think that has value. But in this film in particular, I would say that the violence is extremely narrative. So much of Tasya's character is about her relationship to her work and her relationship to that violence... in a film where bodies are so important and her relationship with violence is so important, I felt it was very much appropriate."

Explaining the genesis of the project, Cronenberg said that his main focus wasn't necessarily with the violence or gore, but more on the psychological effects on Tasya's family life. 

"From the writing stage, I was most interested in actually the domestic scenes," he said, noting Tasya's difficulties relating to her husband and son. "I started thinking about a film where someone may or may not be an imposter in her life, because I'm interested in the ways we assemble and maintain our identities and the ways that acting, creation of character, and creation of personal narrative are fundamental to how we operate. So it was really, first and foremost, a film about that."

Possessor is currently playing at the Sundance Film Festival.