Possessor (film)

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Possessor (film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrandon Cronenberg
Produced by
Written byBrandon Cronenberg
Music byJim Williams
CinematographyKarim Hussain
Edited byMatthew Hannam
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 25, 2020 (2020-01-25) (Sundance)
  • October 2, 2020 (2020-10-02) (United States and Canada)
  • November 27, 2020 (2020-11-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
Box office$901,093[3][4]

Possessor is a 2020 science fiction psychological horror film[5] written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. An international co-production of Canada and the United Kingdom, the film stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Possessor had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2020, and was released in the United States and Canada on October 2, 2020, by Neon and Elevation Pictures. It was released in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2020, by Signature Entertainment. The film was particularly praised for its originality and the performances from Riseborough and Abbott.


In an alternate 2008, Tasya Vos is an assassin who takes control of others' bodies to carry out her hits. Through an implant installed in the unwitting host's brain, Vos can use a special machine to insert her consciousness into their minds. She returns to her own body by forcing the host to commit suicide at the end of each job.

Due to the amount of time she spends imitating other people, Vos struggles with increasing detachment from her own identity and cannot fully separate her work from her interactions with her husband, Michael, and son, Ira. She "practices" assuming her normal persona the same way she practices impersonating her hosts. Thoughts of violence haunt her during ordinary domestic life, such as when putting Ira to bed and having sex with Michael.

Vos's handler, retired assassin Girder, is critical of her desire to remain connected to her family and expresses the belief that Vos would be a better killer without personal attachments. In a debriefing session meant to reconnect her with her real identity, Vos sorts through a series of objects associated with personal memories and pauses on a butterfly that she pinned and framed as a child. She tells Girder she feels guilty for killing it.

Despite her fragile mental state and fatigue with her work, Vos agrees to perform a major hit on wealthy CEO John Parse and his daughter, Ava, by possessing Ava's fiancé, Colin Tate. The hit is only a partial success: Ava dies, but Parse survives. Vos attempts to flee the scene by forcing Tate to shoot himself but discovers she cannot make him pull the trigger.

Tate instead stabs himself in the skull in an act of rebellion. This damages the implant, and Vos discovers she cannot leave Tate's body or overpower his will. Tate, regaining control, does not know why he killed his girlfriend or why he has begun to experience false, fragmented memories of another person's — Vos's — life.

The traumatized and disoriented Tate flees from the crime scene to his friend Reeta's apartment. He kills Reeta while struggling with dissociative memories of the hit on Parse and Ava. Eddie, another employee from Vos's company, arrives at the apartment to help her regain control and complete Tate's suicide. The attempt fails. Vos is still unable to make Tate kill himself. Instead, Tate becomes aware of her presence inside his body; his consciousness overpowers hers in a psychic confrontation, giving him access to memories of her husband, child and home. He kills Eddie during their internal battle.

Tate then goes to Vos's home and holds her husband at gunpoint, demanding to know what she did to him. Vos appears and goads Colin into killing Michael so that she can be freed from her personal attachments. When Michael knocks the gun from Tate's hand, Tate kills him with a meat cleaver. Moments later, Ira stabs Tate in the throat, finally killing him. Tate uses his last moments to fatally shoot Ira, though the murder is portrayed as Vos herself shooting Ira.

Vos returns to her own body and discovers Girder had taken control of Ira to end her struggle with Tate. With Ira and Michael both dead, she is now free of all human attachments, just like Girder wanted.

In another debriefing, Vos sorts through the same personal objects from the beginning of the film. She handles the butterfly again but does not express any guilt for killing it.



In May 2018, it was announced Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott had joined the cast of the film, with Brandon Cronenberg directing from a screenplay he wrote. Fraser Ash, Niv Fichman, Kevin Krikst, and Andrew Starke will produce the film under their Rhombus Media and Rook Films banners. Telefilm Canada will produce the film, while Elevation Pictures will distribute in Canada.[6] In February 2019, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stacy Martin and Sean Bean joined the cast of the film.[7] In May 2019, Tuppence Middleton joined the cast of the film, with Middleton replacing Martin.[8]


Principal photography began on April 9, 2019.[9]


In November 2018, Well Go USA Entertainment acquired distribution rights to the film.[10] The film later had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2020.[1][11] Shortly after, Neon acquired distribution rights to the film, with Well Go USA only handling the film's home media release.[12] It was released in the United States and Canada on October 2, 2020.[13][14] The film was released in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2020 by Signature Entertainment.[15][16]


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 93% of 134 critic ratings are positive for Possessor, and the average rating is 7.7/10. The website's consensus reads, "Further refining his provocative vision, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg uses Possessor's potentially over-the-top premise as a delivery mechanism for stylishly disturbing thrills."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18]

The film received a positive review by David Sims in The Atlantic, who wrote: "Cronenberg isn't just looking to provoke with blood and guts -- like all good dystopian fiction, Possessor offers disturbing and timely observations about the world we already live in."[19] It was a New York Times Critic's Pick, with Glenn Kenny praising the film's formal sophistication.[20]

The film's opening sequence was singled out for praise, particularly Gabrielle Graham's performance as Holly in the sequence. David Ehrlich from IndieWire called it "a coldly compelling prologue"; and Wendy Ide from Screen Daily agreed: "In a memorable cameo role in the film’s opening, Gabrielle Graham also makes an impact."[21][22]

Meagan Navarro of Bloody Disgusting gave the film a score of four-and-a-half out of five, writing: "Like dad David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg has a unique way of testing the boundaries of comfort and exploring the human mind and body in squeamish fashion."[23] John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film's direction, visuals, as well as its performances, and special effects.[5] Rob Hunter of Film School Rejects gave the film a positive review, writing: "While Possessor retains his family's love of body horror and morally misused electronics it also manages an engrossing pace, engaging characters, unrelentingly brutal violence, erect penises, a must-own Halloween mask, a mean-spirited Sean Bean, one hell of an ending, and more.... All of it, though, is fantastically and cruelly unforgettable."[24] Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm gave the film ten out of ten, writing: "Bathed in blood and gore, and unrelentingly aggressive, Brandon Cronenberg‘s Possessor is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It is a singular work – one so ghastly, so unique, and so brutal that it will awe some and disgust others."[25]

JoBlo.com's Chris Bumbray gave the film a score of eight out of ten, stating that the film "recalls many of his father David Cronenberg's previous works", Bunbray further praised Abbott and Riseborough's performances, as well as similar praise towards the film's visual style.[26] David Ehrlich from IndieWire also gave the film a grade of "B-", praising Cronenberg's direction as well as the film's cinematography, visuals, and performances, while also stating it did not fully realize its potential.[21]


Possessor won the awards for Best Feature Length Film and Best Direction at the Sitges Film Festival in 2020.[27] It was also given the Grand Prize at the 2021 Gérardmer Film Festival, where Jim Williams won for Original Score.[28] The film received three nominations at the inaugural Critics' Choice Super Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category, for Best Movie, Best Actor, and Best Actress.[29] It was named to the Toronto International Film Festival's year-end Canada's Top Ten list for feature films.[30]


  1. ^ a b "Possessor". Sundance.org. Sundance Institute. Archived from the original on January 27, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "British Council Film: Possessor". British Council. Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  3. ^ "Possessor (2020)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  4. ^ "Possessor (2020)". The Numbers. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
  5. ^ a b DeFore, John. "'Possessor' Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 5, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  6. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (May 13, 2018). "Andrea Riseborough & Christopher Abbott To Star In Brandon Cronenberg Thriller 'Possessor'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on September 7, 2018. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  7. ^ Ritman, Alex (February 10, 2019). "Berlin: Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stacy Martin Board Sci-Fi Thriller 'Possessor'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 10, 2019. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  8. ^ Ritman, Alex (May 16, 2019). "Cannes First Look: Christopher Abbot in Brandon Cronenberg's Sci-Fi Thriller 'Possessor' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 16, 2019. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  9. ^ "Possessor". Production List. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  10. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (November 2, 2018). "Well Go USA Pre-Buys Andrea Riseborough-Christopher Abbot Sci-Fi 'Possessor' — AFM". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on February 3, 2019. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  11. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (December 4, 2019). "Sundance Unveils Female-Powered Lineup Featuring Taylor Swift, Gloria Steinem, Abortion Road Trip Drama". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on December 8, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  12. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 27, 2020). "Brandon Cronenberg Sci-Fi Thriller 'Possessor' Acquired By Neon". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on March 27, 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  13. ^ Squires, John (August 18, 2020). "NEON Sets October Release Date for Brandon Cronenberg's 'Possessor'". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  14. ^ "Elevation Pictures". Elevation Pictures. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  15. ^ "Possessor". Film Distributors Association. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Cooper, Dan (September 2, 2020). "Thrilling trailer lands for Possessor, from Brandon Cronenberg". Film Stories. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
  17. ^ "Possessor (2020) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on May 2, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  18. ^ "Possessor Uncut Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  19. ^ Sims, David (October 1, 2020). "A New Dystopian Thriller That Will Twist Your Stomach and Your Brain". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  20. ^ Kenny, Glenn (October 1, 2020). "'Possessor' Review: It's by a Cronenberg, but Not the One You Think". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  21. ^ a b Ehrlich, David (January 26, 2020). "'Possessor' Review: Brandon Cronenberg's Gory Techno-Thriller Gets Under Your Skin". IndieWire. Archived from the original on May 2, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  22. ^ Ide, Wendy (January 26, 2020). "'Possessor': Sundance Review". Screen. Archived from the original on January 26, 2020. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  23. ^ Navarro, Meagan. "[Sundance Review] Brandon Cronenberg's Heady Sci-Fi Film 'Possessor' Brings the Gore". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on February 5, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  24. ^ Hunter, Rob (January 31, 2020). "Holy Hell, 'Possessor'". Film School Rejects. Archived from the original on February 1, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  25. ^ Evangelista, Chris. "'Possessor' Review: Brandon Cronenberg's Ultra-Violent Thriller is Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before [Sundance 2020]". Slashfilm. Archived from the original on January 27, 2020. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  26. ^ Bumbray, Chris (January 31, 2020). "Review: Possessor (Sundance 2020)". Joblo.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  27. ^ de la Fuente, Anna Marie (October 18, 2020). "Brandon Cronenberg's 'Possessor Uncut' Wins the Sitges Festival's Best Film, Director Awards". Variety. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  28. ^ AlloCine. "Gérardmer 2021 : Possessor de Brandon Cronenberg et les sauterelles de La Nuée au Palmarès". AlloCiné (in French). Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  29. ^ "Flights Of Fantasy". Watch Magazine. January 4, 2021. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  30. ^ Victoria Ahearn, "Toronto International Film Festival releases Top Ten lists for 2020". Squamish Chief, December 9, 2020.

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