[Review] – The Possession

21 Sep

Title: The Possession
Year: 2012
Director: Ole Bornedal
Writers: Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
Starring: Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu, Grant Show
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences
Runtime: 92 min
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Metacritic: 45

The Possession, which opened atop of the box office a couple of weeks ago, is, as you might imagine from its name, a supernatural horror movie. One that’s directed by Ole Bornedal, a Danish director, and that stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick. The name that drew me most to it, however, was that of one of its producers: Sam Raimi. Mr. Raimi is obviously known to most as the guy that did the Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire, but people like me love him the most for his work on the horror genre with the Evil Dead movies, a genre he then returned to in 2009 with Drag Me to Hell, which has to be one of the five or so best horror films of the new millennium. So, yeah, if he had seen something interesting in this project I was down to check it out.

It’s said to be based on a true story, that of the dybbuk box which was this cabinet originally auctioned off on eBay that came with this horror story in the description saying how it was haunted by a dybbuk, a spirit from Jewish folklore that would inhabit and eventually kill off its human host. The whole eBay thing isn’t in the movie but I still think it’s interesting as it’s gained a fair bit of notoriety, having belonged to this German Holocaust survivor and then found it’s way to the U.S. where it’s apparently been causing bad stuff to happen around the people who have been in possession of it.

The guy who currently has the box in real life also experienced weird health problems upon first getting it and he then consulted with Rabbis to find a way to actually seal the box again, which they were successful in doing and he’s then hidden the box in a secret location he won’t reveal. He did, however, offer to show the box to the filmmakers as production on the film started, though everyone involved with the making on this film was sufficiently creeped out by the story as it was an declined the offer. Apparently, the storage house in Vancouver where the props for the film were kept mysteriously burned down a few days after shooting wrapped. Not a superstitious guy, but the whole thing is kind of creepy.

All of this real-life story doesn’t really have anything to do with the movie itself other than show the events it used as an inspiration. What I do think, however, is that even though it’s based on this super creepy real story, The Possession ultimately feels just like any other film of its type, with the clichés and the fact that a lot of the scenes that are meant to elicit a scared gasp many times only manage to get a soft giggle out of you. It’s a well-crafted B-movie-feel kind of film, but it’s super sad that it just doesn’t seem to add any original idea of its own to this worn-out premise.

Mr. Morgan and Ms. Sedwick play Clyde and Stephanie, a newly divorced couple with two daughters, Em and Hannah. As they’re spending some time with their dad, getting used to his new place, he takes them to this yard sale where Em finds this box with Hebrew inscriptions engraved on it. As you might easily imagine, she starts getting super attached to the box and really bad things start happening around her and to her, with her behavior worsening the longer she’s in possession of the box. Enventually, the spirt latches onto Em with full force and Clyde starts investigating what he can do to help her out. One of the biggest laughs for me was the fact Tzadok, the Jew in the local Hasidic community he goes to for help, was played by Matisyahu. Not even kidding.

It’s just that you’ve seen this before and this adds nothing new to the whole daughter-from-a-middle-class-family-that-ends-up-being-possessed. I mean, Mr. Bornedal says he was drawn to it not because of the horror story but because he feels it works more like an allegory for divorce, which may be the case but I just don’t see or buy it; demons don’t kill but divorce does? I mean, weird. This really is just the stuff we’ve been getting every few months ever since The Exorcist first came out. Yeah, the demon now is Jewish but whatever, means nothing really.

I feel like I’ve been trashing this film but that doesn’t mean it’s a horrible, inexcusable movie. I certainly don’t recommend it, but at least Mr. Morgan is actually rather good here and Natasha Calis, who’s in charge of playing Em, really sells it. The thing is, there’s just no reason for me to say “hey, go see The Possession!”, the whole divorce angle is a kind of neat idea, I guess, but screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White are just horribly obvious in their attempts of pushing that point through. If there had been just a bit more subtlety here then maybe I would’ve bought into it.

Like I said, some props have to be given because I thought at least this was well-made. Mr. Bornedal certainly knows how to pace the film, especially during the first 40 minutes or so, and he does a few things with the shots here that were certainly a welcomed sight. This is why I’m giving this a C and not a C-, actually, because in horror films nowadays the directors are so unimportant. At least here you get a guy trying stuff out and creating a sense of atmosphere and maybe knowing a bit just how silly this whole thing is. I may not have bought into why he signed on to this film, but I bought into what he brought to it.

Grade: C

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