Possession, The (2012)

Cover art:

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The Possession (2012)Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport

Directed by Ole Bornedal


Ever since the release of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist back in 1973, we’ve seen countless exorcism-themed horror flicks over the last few decades, all usually involving Catholicism and how that church in particular handles things when a demon manages to pop into our world.

With The Possession, though, we explore the world of Jewish folklore and “dibbuks” – malevolent spirits or demons that possess the person they make contact with, usually resulting in some pretty messed up stuff happening to the person possessed and those around them. In this instance, it’s 11-year-old Em (Natasha Calis) who buys a mysterious wooden box at a garage sale; at first things seem normal, but as Em’s growing obsession with the box and her increasing aggressive behavior continue to escalate, her now-divorced parents, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), struggle to figure out just what is happening to their daughter before the dibbuk takes hold of Em for good.

While The Possession is certainly a supernatural thriller that offers up a couple of fun jump scares and some effectively creepy moments as well (MOTHS!), what makes the film a bit more engaging is the family drama that sits squarely center within the story, allowing The Possession to get under your skin in other ways, too: After seeing them struggle throughout the film, you actually want this family to make it through their terrifying ordeal.

Bornedal, the man behind the terrific Nightwatch with Ethan Hawke and a bunch of other films I’ve honestly never heard of, was an interesting choice to helm The Possession and mostly succeeds. He puts the relationships between his characters front and center. Morgan is fantastic as Clyde, a flawed but likable hero for this story, his chemistry with Calis being particularly noteworthy. Viewers also empathize with Clyde as he struggles in dealing with feeling like an outsider in his own family now that his ex-wife Stephanie has moved on (“Melrose Place” alum Grant Show plays her new love interest, which made this writer ecstatic) after their divorce recently finalized. Morgan nails the role so naturally it makes me wish we’d see more of him on the big screen.

Calis is also pretty phenomenal- Bornedal put the young actress through the ringer, having Calis perform most of her own stunts, and even threw her in a room filled with hundreds upon hundreds of swarming moths (YUCK) for one of the super creepy reveals in The Possession. Sedgwick delivers a likable performance, her role not written as the usual harping ex-wife who fights with her ex over the well-being of their kids. Her concern throughout the film feels grounded and realistic, not ever forcing viewers to take sides in the couples’ break-up, which often happens in stories like these.

And file this in the “things I never thought I’d be saying” category, but I actually rather enjoyed Matisyahu’s performance as Rabbi Tzadok.

And while I was certainly far more entertained by The Possession than another recent supernatural thriller that the flick is bound to draw comparisons to (*cough* The Apparition *cough*), the movie does suffer from numerous issues that keep it in the “pretty good but not great: range of recent exorcism-related genre movies.

Throughout the first two acts of The Possession, Bornedal takes his time telling his story and letting the creepiness of the situation unfold (which is great), but as we approach Act Three, out of nowhere he shifts things into high gear and rushes all through all of the moments viewers were looking forward to- all the violence and crazy moments that usually come with an exorcism as well as seeing how Em, her family and Rabbi Tzadok all physically and emotionally deal with the girl once the demon takes hold and she morphs into a mini-Incredible Hulk, taking down everyone with her demonic super-strength. Suddenly we get some strobe light-esque effects, a lot of wind and a bunch of darkness that never lets us see just what is actually happening during the monumental confrontation with the dibbuk. It feels sloppy and rushed, which is a shame.

The Possession also features some pretty terrible CGI in the third act that almost completely lost me as an interested viewer. The rest of the movie’s CG work looked really great so it’s unfortunate that one of the film’s keystone effects feels this sloppy and unfinished, killing the mood instantaneously. It’s a huge pet peeve for me; for others it may not be as glaring, but that effect in particular sticks out like a sore thumb on what otherwise were some pretty decent effects work.

So for those of you looking for a horror film on the more brutal side, The Possession isn’t really going to be for you (hold out until October!); but for you readers out there who tend to enjoy when a horror movie actually gives you some compelling characters and relationships as well as a few good scares and creepy moments, then you’ll probably enjoy the flick.

While it certainly isn’t what I would call a remarkable effort, it’s the engaging performances by both Morgan and Calis that save The Possession from being a total misfire; if you don’t mind your horror somewhat on the milder side (the really violent stuff either being rushed or not shown in camera), you’ll probably enjoy Bornedal’s efforts on his latest thriller.

3 out of 5

Discuss The Possession in the comments section below!

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  • kiddcapone

    In all honesty, there is a difference between the way men and women view things. I don’t think it’s a caveman mentality to admit it; it’s just unpopular and comes off as asshole-ish, especially if you ever want to get laid again.

    There’s always exceptions, nothing is absolute, but from my personal experiences, more often than not, my horror tastes are not in line with women. Same can be said with teenagers. Sure we’re ALL horror fans, but my opinion rarely matches some 13 year old kid. It’s the same deal.

    Take this review for example. The Possession sucked. It was a complete failure. But coming from a female perspective, it focused on something that 99% of all men don’t give a shit about:

    “what makes the film a bit more engaging is the family drama that sits squarely center within the story, allowing The Possession to get under your skin in other ways, too: After seeing them struggle throughout the film, you actually want this family to make it through their terrifying ordeal.”

    Really? This was pure estrogen Lifetime Original Network PG bullshit. This didn’t make the film engaging, it made it unwatchable. It doesn’t get under your skin. It didn’t make me want the family to make it through. It made me want to leave. I’m sorry, I want my horror movies to be creepy, scary, make me feel uneasy. I don’t want crying divorced parents reciting horrible lines of dialogued plucked directly from the cheesiest unused soap opera script. It was unintentionally hilarious. It’s supposed to be some big dramatic finale and I’m laughing my ass off at the dancing Rabbi chanting whatever-the-fuck. And the hand coming out? The screaming of the Dibbuk’s name ala The Rite. What a fucking riot.

    I didn’t even start to list the dozens and dozens of logic flaws within the film. Like the fact the dibbuk is supposed to only attach to the innocent, but then it jumps in the dad. Or that it has the ability to kill people outside the box using telekinetic powers but never kills anyone in direct harm to the box (the dad or rabbi). The hospital with no one on staff. If it wanted to live again, why not just run away once fully possessed, why hang around and give people a chance to figure it out.

    The Possession is nothing more than made-for-tv drivel on the big screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oprah buys the rights and puts it on her network.

    • The Woman In Black

      I don’t disagree that men and women see things differently, just like, as you said, older people differ from teens. I do, however, think you’re shortchanging men a bit by saying they don’t care about likable/relatable characters and/or family dynamics in a film. Here are just a few excerpts from reviews for The Possession written by MEN. All of these comments pretty much mirror what Heather said, and gender doesn’t really seem to come into play.

      Do I think The Possession is a great movie? Of course not… but I just had to comment on the blanket statement that 99% of men don’t give a shit about certain aspects of a film when that’s clearly not the case.

      Devin Faraci: What makes The Possession a cut above is the fact that you like the characters. The family drama in The Possession is just as, if not more, gripping than the horror story. What’s more, the two elements work thematically together…

      Roger Ebert: …creates believable characters in a real world… One of the scariest things about “The Possession” is that the characters are all real before Emily begins to change.

      Mike Gingold: …Em’s subsequent possession by the demon within it proceeds with as much inevitability as suspense. More captivating are the lived-in-feeling relationships between the Brenek family, which gives the movie a character-oriented grounding for the horrors to come… Bornedal’s direction in general is attuned to emotion and avoids sensationalism… Everyone involved with THE POSSESSION clearly aimed to make something with dramatic weight as opposed to mere exploitation.

      Mark Harris: What immediately separates The Possession from most horror movies is its sense of humanity. The cast has wonderful rapport, the dialogue is grounded and full of heart, and the family dynamics ring true, imbuing the action with a heart-wrenching gravitas.

      • Vanvance1

        I think you’re missing the point. Men are not uninterested in strong characterization and well realized relationships. What’s they’re not interested in is the type of sentimental drivel you get on the ‘lifetime channel’ or ‘woman’s network.’

        It is possible to aim an entertainment with gender specificity.

        Women wouldn’t want Oprah to start talking about audiophile in ear headphones and comparing the sonic qualities of the same. They’d want her to show them 5 pairs of headphones that are fashionable and look good.

        Just as the romantic comedy has traditionally been a woman’s entertainment, horror has been a man’s. It doesn’t mean there isn’t crossover but it does mean the appeal of some things can be determined by gender.

        If a woman says she likes horror it will be a very rare instance when she’s talking about ‘Day of the Dead’, ‘Martyrs’ or ‘I Spit on Your Grave’.

        We want different things from out entertainment. We’re looking for different things from our reviews.

  • thehorrorchick

    And yes, moths are FUCKING creepy; had about 50 of them come out of my grandparents closet at me when I was like 8 years old…it was seriously creepy and gross. So yes, moths ARE creepy.

    • Terminal

      Look out for ladybugs. Those things are petrifying. I kid, I kid.

      • nazo

        Butterflies. They’re like moths on acid.

        • Terminal

          Butterflies are god’s little demons.

          • nazo

            Little agents of chaos.

  • Pestilence

    [Kel] Awwww, here it go’…! [/Kel]

  • elric300

    Will wait for the uncut Blu Ray.

    Bit tired of playing the bait and switch game.

    Good review, though.

  • Terminal

    I think I’ll be agreeing with Pestilence’s review when I see this film.

    • Vanvance1

      I’ll second that. A reviewer who is frightened of moths and excited by the appearance of a Melrose Place actress isn’t looking for the same thing out of a horror film that I am.

      • MagusMaleficus

        Moths aren’t fucking natural. They’re like zombified butterflies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that wasn’t covered in at least a half-inch of dust–motherfucking grave dust!

        • The Woman In Black

          I remember as a kid reading something about moth dust bringing knowledge to whomever it’s sprinkled on. Can’t remember the book it was in, but I thought it was cool. It’s always stuck with me.

      • Terminal

        Yeah that and the whole “Let’s just say I prefer to focus on the good rather than the bad” guideline the reviewer has.

        • thehorrorchick

          Hey guys,

          No offense but if you don’t like my reviews, no one is forcing you to read them so I really don’t understand why each review I write you spend time tearing me down as a reviewer…it’s like week in and week out now.

          I know it’s highly improbable that a woman might actually know how to do a horror movie review but I feel confident in saying that being a horror fan for over 30 years now, plus over five years experience doing online horror coverage, both qualify me for the job. If you don’t think I know my shit, then you are sorely mistaken.

          And it’s true that I tend to not want to totally nitpick someone’s work to death- sue me. I go to the movies to be entertained and if I find something that still has entertainment value, I’ll say so. But I have written MANY negative reviews over the years (you want to see me tear something down, go read reviews for Detention or Fading of the Cries- just two I can think of off the top of my head) so please don’t tell me that I don’t know how to say something sucks. I just find more respectful ways (usually) to do so rather than shitting all over someone’s hard work (even if a movie isn’t great, it’s still something someone made so I’m just being respectful of that).

          You guys are totally entitled to your own opinions (as am I) but really- if you don’t like my reviews, then it’s just as easy to not read them rather than this same old song and dance about how me being a chick disqualifies me from writing thoughtful reviews.

          Get a new schtick.

          • Terminal

            So not only do you not give negative reviews, but I can’t comment on your writing unless I have something positive to say about your review or the film itself? That’s sound logic.

            FYI, I’ve never said a “chick” can’t write horror reviews before in my life. I have nothing but the fondest respect for female writers. I’m just not a fan of your rose colored reviews of horror movies is all. You’re right, no one is forcing me to read them, it’s just tough when you’re given the majority of major coverage on a horror site I’m a huge fan of. I’m sure you’re a very sweet nice person in real life, I’m just not a fan of the horrorchick the movie reviewer. Nothing personal.

          • thehorrorchick

            Actually Terminal, I never said anyone in particular said anything…but yes, the comment was made above that women aren’t nearly the reviewers men are but no, not by you.

            And regarding those rose colored glasses- all I can do is apologize. I like what I like and I love going to the movies and escaping through the big screen and if I think something has some entertainment value, I’ll say so. Sorry that most of my reviews show both the good and bad aspects to any given movie- to me, that just seems a lot more reasonable way to look at a movie rather than just focusing on one side or the other.

            So I don’t know what else to say except- don’t read my reviews then if you don’t like them. It’s as simple as that. You’re free to criticize of course, but that’s not really what you’re doing here, is it? You’re criticizing my opinion, not my review.

            And in terms of all this boy-girl crap anyway, it sucks that someone had to go there earlier because I’m a huge proponent of an equal playing field…I’ve never asked for special treatment because I’m a chick and I’m not a fan of other women who do so…so all this sexism chatter should just really go away now because I think it’s lame.

            Now back to the kitchen with me- I’ve got dishes to do! 😉

          • Terminal

            And again, it’s my prerogative to read your reviews, because if you’re going to write on a major horror website with a large committed following of readers, be prepared for scrutiny. That’s called the writing experience. For lack of a better saying, if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.

            If I don’t say anything, it doesn’t mean someone else won’t eventually come on here and take you to task.

            Just because you write only positive things about movies and look for the positive in everything it doesn’t count as a get out of jail free card from criticism from readers. That’s almost like saying if I don’t go outside nothing bad will happen to me.

            If you don’t want people reacting to your writing, then scribble all your stuff down in a notebook and keep it tucked away for you and you alone. With center stage comes the all critical eye of your audience. Deal with it.

            My gripes with you is as a writer, not a woman, or person. I don’t even know you enough to decide if I like you or not. But I know what I like in a writer, and you’re not it. But that’s what variety is about anyway. The chance to pick and choose what you want and don’t want.

            Again, it’s not personal.

          • Vanvance1

            If you’re going to write them I’m going to comment on them. The problem you’re facing is that your work doesn’t compare favourably to other DC review contributors.

            Contrary to your comments it’s not your lack of negativity that hobbles your reviews. One of the biggest problems is you constantly and consistently spoil the movie under review by sharing every single plot point, occurence and character arc. The key word there is spoilers. A good reviewer gives the reader the gist of the story and then explains how well the movie delivers on it’s premise.

            I currently use your reviews as a reversed barometer. If you like it the odds are I won’t; so in a sense they do serve their purpose.

            Also, please understand that if you’re posting your opinions on a forum that allows others to post theirs you’re going to encounter conflict. This isn’t limited to you. It happens to each and every person who writes anything on DC. At the least it means we’re paying attention.

          • Uncle Creepy

            Oh, come on already. Nearly every time a woman writes something you always have something to say along the lines of sexism. Here’s a newsflash for you, chicks rock and know every bit about the horror genre as males do. Fandom doesn’t stop at the penis, sexual orientation, race, creed, or color. Heather is an incredible journalist and as big of a fan as they come. Her cred is rock solid and she has doled out A LOT of our best pieces. It’s the 21st Century, dude. Women have come along way from being just barefoot and pregnant. Get with the program.

          • Terminal

            I agree and I don’t like being lumped in with Vanvance. I don’t agree with his stance on many things, including women as a whole. Female writers and movie critics have just as much credibility and talent, if not more, than most movie geeks I know online. Look at folks like Stacie Ponder and Jill Pantozzi.

          • Vanvance1

            I don’t like your program. Hooray for you waving the PC flag of gender equality. Here’s the thing, we’re not fighting the same battle.

            I have no problem with equal pay for equal work, women voting, being educated etc… For me these are all givens.

            We’re talking about women and horror. Female horror reviewers have tastes that are naturally feminine. Horror is traditionally not a feminine genre and though it has been co-opted by women of late, I feel that’s been more harmful than good.

            When I walk into a book store and see the horror shelves full of Twilight knock offs, endless stories or pretty boy vampires, angst ridden sexy supernatural detectives et al… it just depresses me.

            Naturally my editorial comments (and that’s all these forums are) will reflect my tastes and my beliefs as to what is good horror and what is good for horror.

            My initial comment on this review was that the reviewer was looking for something different from her horror than I was. I think it’s safe to say that most male horror fans aren’t going to get excited by the inclusion of a Melrose Place actor, yet this was a positive tick for the reviewer.

            For me that red flag (among many others) are reason enough to discount the value of the review TO ME.

            So I’m sorry if I’m upsetting your staff, Creepy, but I’m not ‘getting with the program’, it’s a bad one.

          • Uncle Creepy

            It’s like pissing in the wind. Why do I even bother? Sigh.

          • Vanvance1

            Must be because you enjoy the taste of piss.

          • nazo

            In other words, “I have no problem with women as long as they conform to my preconceptions and desires.” Okay, dude.

          • Vanvance1

            No, those are your words, not mine. My words are very clear and posted in the comment above yours.

            Please don’t try to expand the topic. This is women and horror. Not women and anything else.

          • Terminal

            Um… he doesn’t speak for me. So you know… I’m not on his team.

          • Vanvance1

            I have a team? I thought I was expressing my opinions. Still I see your issue, there could be collateral damage. If I were you I’d contact your attorney ASAP. Maybe lay low for a while. You don’t want to get caught with a ricochet comment.

          • Terminal

            Vanvance I don’t share your views. Might want to get over it. Probably because I grew up around strong, independent women who challenged me so much. That just inspired me to respect them. I see how women can change or alter the horror genre, but I think there’s room for everyone to play with the genre.

            Men have changed romantic comedies. Woody Allen made some amazing romantic comedies, Neil Simon wrote incredible romantic comedies, Judd Apatow is popular for creating romantic comedies for men, Kevin Smith is popular for his very homoerotic relationship with Jason Mewes. There’s room on the field for everyone to have their turn.

            Horror isn’t a male dominated medium. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein, a woman wrote The Birds, and woman have been the inspiration for some of the best horror stories of all time. They’re the motivation, the foils, the heroines.

            Scream queens, final girls.

            Women changed horror forever.

            I too hate the hypocrisy about women’s lib and feminism, and how it’s become a man hating ideology, but I also recognize women changed horror more than you care to admit.

            And I’m not talking about a sexually repressed mormon author who wrote about two twinks fawning over jail bait.

            There’s much more than that happening right now.

            So I ask everyone: Don’t lump me in with Vanvance. Thank you.

          • Vanvance1

            Yeeehah, get on that thar bandwagon!

            I’m going to give you an ‘A’ for bandwagon jumping and an ‘F’ for reading comprehension.

            I don’t feel the need to reiterate my points so through the miracle of the mouse scroll wheel I ask you to do it for me.

            Read, reread and enjoy.

          • Terminal

            Man for an alleged horror fan, you’re woefully and painfully ignorant to the actual impact women have had on horror. You’re what–seventeen right? You think The Fog with Tom Welling is an amazing horror film? Damn. Oh well. As I’ve learned, never waste time arguing with sheer ignorance. Good say sir.

          • thehorrorchick

            Dude, I never post spoilers- anything I write has been at the very least seen in a trailer. If I ever go any further than that (and if I have, it has been maybe once in five years) I would inject the ol’ SPOILER ALERT verbage right in there…I personally loathe when people post spoilers and even use spoiler alerts in my interviews when called for (sometimes I don’t even run the spoiler in question moment from an interview just to be safe).

            And yes, of course me posting reviews opens me up to public comments- and by that right, it also gives me the right to retort and defend myself as well. I don’t know what more to say except that if you’re looking for me to rip everything I see to shreds, that’s not gonna happen. Believe me, I see movies I hate and when I do, I don’t give favorable reviews- I just find a more respectable way to say something doesn’t work on an entertainment level than “this was shit.” If that makes me a horrible reviewer, than so be it.

            But yes, I like to find something to like about everything- that’s why I go to the movies; to escape and have some fun and if that happens for me (even if a movie has it’s flaws), I’m not going to say it has zero entertainment value if there’s still some fun to be had for other people out there. Most of my favorite movies are imperfect but that’s why I love them- they’re still entertaining even if they’re not what’s considered the usual ‘brilliant filmmaking’ or whatever.

            But yeah, sorry I’m not more of a dick in my reviews but really, that’s not my thing…

      • The Woman In Black

        Actually, it’s a Melrose Place actor. If you’re taking digs at someone, at least get your facts straight!

        • Uncle Creepy

          But women don’t know how to review horror movies! Just ask VanVance1

          • Terminal

            Who said what now?

          • Vanvance1

            Now, now Creepy. I’m sure there are just as many great female horror reviewers as there are great female horror directors.

            Anything is possible, it’s just unlikely.

            Also, I’m sure all of them sparkle like pretty Vampires in the sunlight.

        • Vanvance1

          Yes, it’s true I’m not an expert on Melrose place. Shocking.