Tag Archives: Brandon Cronenberg

Brandon Cronenberg’s startling ‘Possessor’ highlights a Dark Alley double bill

Courtesy of Neon

The pop-up cinema known as Dark Alley Drive-In has been one of the few positive developments for local movie fans during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the latest double feature scheduled for the former K-Mart parking lot at 1001 Hertel Avenue might be the most enticing yet. 

This “Cronenberg Double Feature” starting at 8 p.m. consists of David Cronenberg’s 1981 classic, “Scanners,” followed by “Possessor: Uncut,” the second feature from the Canadian filmmaker’s son, Brandon.

While “Scanners,” the iconic story of people with telepathic (and head-exploding) powers  is a welcome view any time, the real draw here is “Possessor.” 

For he eagerly anticipated follow-up to his sharp debut, “Antiviral,” Brandon Cronenberg assembled a stellar — Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh — and a deeply disturbing story of assassins who inhabit (or possess) other people’s bodies. 

The result is an extraordinary sci-fi/horror film that poses complex questions about identity and spiritual theft, while also succeeding at crafting genuinely horrific imagery. (The film’s poster gives a good indication of what’s to come.)

Its ending is even darker than the rest of the film. It also upends the narrative in a way that is both confounding and delightful. “Possessor” is the kind of film that requires a post-watch analysis — as well as a deep-dive on the internet. 

The casting of Riseborough and, especially, Abbott is spot-on. The latter is carving out a fascinating career as a tense, solemn character actor, and his performance in “Possessor” rivals his work in “James White” and First Man.” And Riseborough finds the right mix of intelligence, fragility and outright fear. 

An ability to create feelings of unsettling exhilaration is what truly links Brandon Cronenberg with his father. Yes, there are thematic and aesthetic connections. But the greatest similarity in their work is in their talents at surprising and to provoking the audience. That makes for engaging cinema, and there is no better example than “Possessor.”

It is more than a worthy follow-up to “Antiviral.” It is, in fact, one of the most startling and involving genre films of 2020.

Rating: B+

Stream It: “Antiviral” is an Icky Treat From (Brandon) Cronenberg

antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg’s debut film “Antiviral” is now streaming on Netflix, and it is a nicely icky movie that is certainly worth a look. It debuted last year at TIFF, and took the award for debut Canadian feature. I’m looking forward to watching it again, and also seeing what Brandon has in store for us next. (This was one of my “TIFF Revisited” columns for the Spree website.)

Brandon Cronenberg’s debut film, “Antiviral,” would fit nicely on the shelf next to his father David’s early efforts, and that says a lot. The young filmmaker had created an icky treat, a horror film with real ideas and bold stylization.

It’s a story of a grim future world that is even more celebrity obsessed than our own, a place where customers pay to be injected with the illnesses of their celeb faves. It’s a clever concept, this fetishization of the body to the point of voluntary infection.

Syd, played by the gaunt, nicely creepy Caleb Landry-Jones (who gave a fine performance in another TIFF 2012 entry, Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium”), works at the Lucas Clinic, the site for these objections, and smuggles diseases out fit extra cash.

But after injecting himself with the much-desired virus of the gorgeous Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon, star of David Cronenberg’s last two efforts), Syd begins to lose his health, and his mind.

It’s all played out in grimly thrilling fashion, and if the film feels a bit overlong, it is always fascinating and smart.

I love that Brandon Cronenberg is not afraid to make a film that calls to mind the work of his old man; a character even mentions having the “shivers” early in the film, surely a tongue-in-cheek reference to his father’s first feature.

If “Antiviral” is any indication, Brandon Cronenberg should be on the verge of a long, interesting career. Perhaps we’ll look back in thirty years and say, “‘Antiviral’ was his ‘Shivers.’”

Photo courtesy of IFC Films