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The Possession (2012)

September 9, 2012

 

written by: Juliet Snowden and Stiles White

produced by: Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert & J. R. Young

directed by: Ole Bornedal

rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences (re-rating on appeal)

runtime: 92 min.

U.S. release date: August 31, 2012

 

Among the many horror movies released each year, only a few offer anything different or original. Most of them are either of the found footage variety or exercises in R-rated violence and gore, or both. Rarely though are those films worth your time. It all gets quite repetitious after a while, especially with typically weak and predictable screenplays and actors void of talent. “The Possession” may seem like yet another one of those pictures, but it actually stands out (despite its end-of-summer release) with a distinctive take on demonic creepiness and a script that provides a solid cast with noticeable characterization – all elements that are kind of rare in most modern horror films.

While it includes some recognizable genre conventions, an audience can still be susceptible to what transpires on the screen. I certainly found myself quite hooked by the story, wondering where it would go, how the characters would react and what they would do. What had me hooked was its freaky beginning, which felt like something out of “The Twilight Zone” or an episode of “The X-Files”, giving viewers an idea of what the movie could be capable of. Some horror fans might be disappointed with where the film goes after that opening, but I was intrigued by where the filmmakers would go with such familiar territory.T

 

 

“The Possession” follows a fractured family residing in upstate New York. Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are trying to figure things out after their recent divorce, which finds their two daughters bouncing between them. Their oldest, Hannah (Madison Davenport) is dealing with the break-up a little better than and their youngest, Emily, or Em (Natasha Calis), who doesn’t understand why mommy and daddy can’t get back together.  Hannah is the type of girl often portrayed in movies (although not as snotty), the one who’s approaching adolescence and rolls her eyes at everything her parents do or say. Em isn’t as hardened by the separation though, her sweetness remains intact and seems to have an inherent  curiosity. Of course, knowing how this movie is supposed to go, neither of those qualities will last.

Stephanie is now dating a orthodontist named Brett (that’d be Grant Show from “Melrose Place”), while college basketball coach Clyde has recently purchased a home of his own with room enough for his girls. He’s more lenient than their mother, allowing the kids to eat junk food, much to their mom’s disapproval and letting his them by a couple of things at a nearby yard sale.

One of those items is a mysterious wooden box that Em purchases and soon becomes unusually attached to. Let’s just say there’s a reason the box, with its intricate carvings, cannot be opened. It probably seems to be an old jewelry box to her father, but they don’t hear an eerie voice beckon Em late at night. When Em finds a way to open and spend more time with the box, Clyde can’t help but to notice her erratic behavior. Something is changing his daughter and these changes are unfortunately happening on his watch.

As he begins to investigate the origins of the box, he learns that it houses a demonic spirit that preys on youth and innocence. It is called a Dybbuk Box, originating from Jewish folklore and it’s used to trap a spirit with the obvious goal that it is never released. Stephanie may be a little slow on the uptake, but she eventually comes around and is open to Clyde bringing in a rebel rabbi, Tzadok (writer and musician, Matisyahu), from a Hasidic neighborhood in New York City to assist in exorcising their daughter. As Em’s behavior becomes more and more sinister, drastic measures are called for in order to get rid of the demon who would rather just make its home inside the warmth of this innocent girl’s body.

 

 

There are some truly frightening scenes in “The Possession” but it’s a picture that will likely be remembered by horror fans for all the other films it resembles. That’s understandable, but I have to give Danish director Ole Bornedal (“Nightwatch”) credit for injecting the film with legitimate scares, like when we see fingers working their way out of Em’s mouth when she shines a light down her throat. That’s quite frightening for a little girl to see and Calis does a fine job playing the role naturally. Sure, a demon-possessed child is one of the most common tropes in the genre, but this girl is good. Calis and the rest of the cast make the most out of a screenplay (from the writers of 2009’s “Knowing”) that is supposedly “based on a true story” – aren’t all possession movies?

Any originality the movie has going for it can be found in its Jewish angle and the specific demon that’s housed in a veritable Pandora’s box. One scene in particular at a lab where Em is getting an MRI is quite unsettling, where we actually encounter the ghostly demon. But then Bornedal finishes with a borderline laughable chase scene filled with screaming, blinding light and howling wind that concludes in a physical therapy wing.

The only trace of co-producer Sam Raimi (“Drag Me to Hell”) is in the first twenty minutes of the movie, which may be a letdown (considering one viewer at my screening thought Rami actually directed it). Ultimately, “The Possession” delivers on the level of a satisfying B-movie or some of the late late television movies that I used to catch as a kid. Its PG-13 rating may assure a wider audience, but it never really hinders it from offering genuine entertainment.

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

 

 

 

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