A little girl possessed by a demon. Sound familiar? The Sam Raimi-produced “The Possession” enters the ring against the classic heavyweight champion “The Exorcist” and is embarrassingly smote during the first round.
Like so many horror movies of the past few decades, “The Possession,” directed by Ole Bornedal (“Nightwatch”), starts off well with a smooth and almost elegiac tone, quietly and slowly building tension only to disastrously crumble upon itself in the second half.
Young Em (Natasha Calis) and her sister visit their estranged father Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) at his new house in an unfinished development. On a trip to a yard sale, Em encourages dad to buy her a seemingly innocent antique wooden box. But there’s a Dibbuk in the box! (A Dibbuk is an ancient spirit that inhabits a host body and eats its way out from the inside.) As soon as Em gets home with her present, things go to hell. Em begins to change – and not from puberty. She becomes ravenous, devouring her food like an animal. She talks to herself, hears voices, mentally checks out. We’ve all done that, but how many can say they’ve had swarms of moths fly out of their mouth? Gross.
Don’t forget this is based on a “true story.” Anyone else know someone whose been possessed by a Dibbuk?
Of course we are given two possible explanations: one, Emily’s food allergy made her really sick after she ate pizza, or… she bought a creepy old box at a yard sale, became possessed by a Dibbuk, gained the superpower of shooting mouths out of her mouth and exploding other people’s faces. You decide.
Now this is a clever spirit, you see. As poor Clyde panics in his attempts to understand what is happening with his daughter, the playfully sinister Dibbuk frames him as being an abusive parent. Clyde’s ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick) believes her deadbeat former husband is beating their daughter. Nobody believes poor Clyde, except a secret Brooklyn sect of exorcist Rabbis.
“The Possession” adds very little that is new to the genre. It is predictable and the scares are quite scarce. There’s the occasional bump in the dark and a creepy moment where Em has something tickling her throat, but overall it’s a very lazy attempt at creating something new within the genre.
Natasha Calis’ primary task as Em is to look stone cold creepy, which for the most part, she does well. But this character and this possession is so lifeless and boring that it’s completely uninteresting to us if she is saved or not.
What made “The Exorcist” so effective, apart from it being completely original at the time, was how the possession didn’t just affect Regan but also the surrounding characters, like Father Damian questioning his faith and the drastic toll on Regan’s mother. Little of that is present in “The Possession.” The movie seems to not want to try to push any boundaries but just stay as comfortable as possible with has already been done before.
There are a few things that noticeably work well in “The Possession:” Jeffery Dean Morgan’s portrayal of a jilted, struggling father is one. We primarily see the horror unfold through his eyes, and he does a convincing job of coming to grips with having a possessed daughter while also trying to convince his ex-wife that he isn’t abusive. Sure he’s not Ellen Burstyn but Morgan makes do with what he has to work with.
Credit is due to the technical team. The aesthetics of the film are top notch. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen and editor Eric Beason, with a strong helping hand from composer Anton Sanko, create a very effective whispery and cold atmosphere throughout. “The Possession” is a rather quiet horror movie and doesn’t seek its scares through loud bangs and stingers. The placid, almost sterile tone of the film is chilling. Too bad the story is bland.
In the end, “The Possession” is forgettable. It will just be added to the endless pile of generic ghost stories with similar titles, similar creepy kids, similar poster design and always a disappointing hint at the end of many more to come.
But just be careful next time you’re near someone who sneezes or vomits or has a food allergy or has an awkward laugh. You just never know.