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