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+