The Film: The Possession (2012)
The Principles: Ole Bornedal (Director). Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Kyra Sedgwick. Natasha Calis. Madison Davenport.
The Premise: After buying an antique box at a yard sale, little Emily Brenek (Calis) finds herself – as the title would suggest – possessed by an old, evil spirit. It’s up to her dad, John Winchester, to save her.
Is It Good: Oh the modern-day possession/exorcism movie. They’re a dime a dozen (at least the scripts seem to be) and rarely wind up being worth much more. And from the premise above (along with the trailer, the generic key art and the boring title) one wouldn’t think they were being too rash in just dismissing this sight-unseen as another The Devil Inside or Exorcismus.
But one would be pretty damn wrong, because, as it turns it, this is actually quite good. And what makes it good has relatively little, if anything, to do with the possession itself (or any of the horror elements, for that matter) and everything to do with the real human drama that makes up the backbone of the entire story. The possession stuff (at least in its cinematic form) is secondary to what’s happened to this family and how each of them are coping with divorce and everything that comes along with it. And these characters and their emotions and the things they say and do are real and they’re genuine, not to mention very well-acted. Surprisingly so in Calis’ case, as there’s always the potential for hardcore eyerolls when kiddos have to carry the heavy stuff.
But even so, it still needs to be a horror movie, and Borendal does a lot with a little. Especially early on, as there’s a lot of restraint and maturity in the way he moves around in a frame, letting tension and dread and atmosphere create itself for the most part. And even though there are a few misplaced edits here and some wonky digital effects there and it loses its balance in the third act, the effort never goes away. Bornedal never stops trying to transcend the expectations and dismissals, and as such he turns in a movie that isn’t wholly successful, but is completely respectable and definitely enjoyable.
Quite good indeed.
Is It Worth A Look: Certainly. Granted, some of the allegorical stuff is a touch on the nose and some of the plot beats are kind of tone-deaf, but it’s genuine and it doesn’t pander.
And it’s like a dollar at the Redbox, so yeah – it’s well worth a look.
Random Anecdotes: The whole movie is based around this NYT article, which tells the tale of an actual-factual dybbuk box that was sold on eBay and all the spooky shenanigans that followed. It’s a pretty interesting read. There’s also this, which I lifted from the movie’s Wikipedia page:
The owner of the dybbuk box, Jason Haxton, offered to send it to producer Sam Raimi, who was both interested and reluctant. Raimi laughingly told an Entertainment Weekly interviewer, “I didn’t want anything to do with it. I’m scared of the thing.” He also told the interviewer that he was raised in a conservative Jewish home: “You don’t hear about dybbuks when you go to synagogue. I know the demonic lore of The Exorcist. But what does my faith believe about demonic possession? … The stories chilled me to the bone.” Jeffrey Dean Morgan felt similarly: “In the research I did, I started getting creeped out. My girlfriend was like, ‘Let’s just make sure that we don’t actually go near the real Dybbuk Box.’”
“We were like, ‘Hell, no,’” recalls screenwriter Juliet Snowden. “‘We don’t want to see it. Don’t send us a picture of it.’”
Director Ole Bornedal said, “Some really weird things happened. I’ve never stood underneath a neon light before that wasn’t lit, that all of a sudden exploded. The worst thing was, five days after we wrapped the movie, all the props burned. This storage house in Vancouver burned down to the ground, and the fire department does not know the cause. I’m not a superstitious man, and I would like to say, ‘Yeah, it’s just a coincidence.’”
So that’s neat!
Cinematc Soulmates: The Unborn. Drag me to Hell. The Last Exorcism. The Exorcist, obviously.