Possession, The (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Distributed by Lionsgate
“The Following is Based on a True Story”
“This is What Happened to One Family Over the Course of 29 Days”
Okay, you know what? Filmmakers, listen up! You are no longer to use the phrase “Based on a True Story” or its many variations to market or open your films! The frisson one might get from the possibility that the story they’re about to watch is real has long since been nullified by the phrase’s mis- and overuse. It no longer has any impact, save for pissing off your potential fans by insulting their intelligence. And even if (IF) your flick hews closely to events that have actually transpired, don’t even bother using it then. The bunch has been spoiled by far too many bad apples.
Case in point: The Possession. The two notices at the top of this review make a pre-opening appearance in this new offering from producer Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures (Sam Raimi producing low budget horror flicks – remember when that sounded like a great idea?). And, of course, they’re both complete bullshit. The film is “based on a true story”, in that there is such a thing as a dibbuk box, the nefarious object that jumpstarts the film’s plot. But the “This is What Happened to One Family…” nonsense is entirely erroneous. That’s two strikes against the film, before the first frame of footage has rolled.
Loosely, loosely based on the Los Angeles Times article “A Jinx in a Box?” (frickin’ great title, that), The Possession concerns Clyde (Morgan), a newly-divorced father sharing custody of his two daughters with his ex-wife Stephanie (Sedgwick). His daughters, the rebellious Hannah (Davenport) and sweet youngster Em (Calis), do their best with the uneasy situation, what with the sometimes tense relationship their parents now share. Things worsen when Em’s health deteriorates and her behavior becomes erratic and sometimes quite dangerous. Though it’s initially believed that she is acting out due to her parents’ separation, her insistence on keeping close to her newly acquired antique box (and speaking with the imaginary friend linked to it) signals the beginning of a number of strange occurrences which convinces Clyde that something supernatural is afoot.
After a quick trip to Professor Exposition, Clyde discovers that his daughter has unwittingly unleashed an evil spirit from her antique, which is actually a Dybbuk Box. In order to save his daughter’s life (and her soul), Clyde must enlist a Hasidic rabbi to perform the ending of The Exorcist on Em, hopefully before time runs out and the audience falls asleep.
Though the photography at times is quite beautiful, the central idea is intriguing, and the characters are well-developed and interesting enough, the movie falters when it comes to its tedium, reliance on clichés, and not being able to play fair by its own rules. Examples! If the demonic spirit is unable to exert its evil influence until Em opens its sealed container, then what is responsible for the hellacious polter-beating the box’s poor previous owner takes at the film’s opening? If the spirit can reach out and attack those it deems to be a threat, why does it leave our story’s hero untouched until the finale (save for knocking a book out of his hand – the horror!). And if the spirit is only interested in possessing the innocent, then why does it bother inhabiting…who it inhabits at the film’s climax? Add to this long, dull stretches that neither engross with their drama nor frighten with their “horror”, along with setpieces you’ve seen done far better in other films, and you have a well-made but ultimately pointless thriller-that-doesn’t-thrill.
Director Bornedal, who made the great Danish thriller NIghtwatch and its surprisingly good Ewan McGregor-led remake, manages to shoot a good-looking picture but fails to generate any tension or genuine scares, except perhaps for a brief moment involving…teeth. Ugh. While I’d mark this movie a failure, I wouldn’t mind seeing another film from him, so long as the script he’s given is stronger and less dependent on convention.
The actors cannot be faulted, as everyone in front of the camera does a fine job. Morgan, as is usual, makes for a likeable lead and strong presence, whose performance anchors the movie throughout (except, perhaps, for a brief unfortunate bit involving a few tears in front of several rabbis). Sedgwick has the thankless task of making her “responsible, uncool” mom character sympathetic, and does so admirably. Davenport and Calis do well as the film’s sisters (especially the latter, who has to toggle back and forth between sweet and scary as the possessed Em), and singer Matisyahu makes for a compelling enough exorcist, until the script calls for him to scream the spirit’s name over and over during the movie’s epileptic fit inducing finale (to be fair – I’m not certain any actor could have pulled this off very well).
Lionsgate casts this flick onto disc with a sharp transfer, strong audio, and a light if not bare-bones bonus features package. The image is quite sharp, with mostly great detail throughout (things occasionally look a little soft in a few of the darker sequences). Colors are strong, giving a good representation of the film’s muted palette. The audio is damn good, taking full advantage of the film’s “Boo! Gotcha!” sound design.
The special features are few, sadly. We get two audio commentaries: one with director Bornedal, which may put you to sleep - not because the content is necessarily boring, but because the man’s calm, measured speaking tones simply…lull one; the other with the film’s writers, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, which is a bit more lively and sheds insight on the project’s genesis and their intentions with their script. “The Real History of the Dibbuk Box” is a fantastic, thirteen-minute featurette that essentially covers the same ground as the L.A. Times article, and will likely send more shivers down your spine in its short running time than the feature managed in ninety minutes. If only the film could’ve more closely followed this intriguing, true-life tale, rather than forcing the facts to conform within Hollywood’s own evil box, then The Possession might have become a special, low-key chiller – rather than the Exorcist-lite hokum we were eventually presented with. Ah, well, so it goes. Rounding out the bonus features is the theatrical trailer. Which is nice and trailery enough, I suppose.
Pass this one up, gang. Though it isn’t as torturous as the similarly themed The Unborn (aka The Ungood), and while it’s a handsomely mounted and well-acted film, The Possession is ultimately not worth your money or time. Do yourselves a solid, and skip this in favor of checking out Bornedal’s previous work, or perhaps any of the number of films that this flick borrows from. But whatever you do, leave this damned box closed.
2 out of 5
2 out of 5