The Possession (2012)
(15) Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Ole Bornedal
Writers: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Matisyahu
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
The Possession arrived late last summer in UK cinemas, and while the film did not perform quite as well as expected, I would imagine it will truly find its home on DVD and Blu-ray. The film, which is based on a true story, covers familiar possession themed horror ground, but in the hands of a director like Ole Bornedal, it is given an added level of class. Bornedal directed the highly praised thriller, Deliver Us From Evil, and the equally excellent Ewan McGregor starring film, Nightwatch (an English language remake of his own film). So, with Bornedal directing, and The Comedian from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) starring, you’d think The Possession would deliver, and in parts it does.
With Sam Raimi producing, we all expected this film to have a touch of brilliance, and the story of a little girl buying a mysterious box at a yard sale which has evil intentions, have all the ingredients for a neat little horror. The film was originally titled Dibbuk Box (a much better title) and this is what the little girl has purchased, and it is this box she becomes obsessed with, but it is also this box which is possessing her. However, there is a lot more to this story than a simple tale of a box and a little girl going a bit crazy. Added into the mix is a broken family of divorced parents, two young girls struggling to deal with, and accept the separation, a new boyfriend in the picture and a husbands desperate attempt to get his wife and look after his little girls. The human touches in this film are spot on, and it is this broken family story which carries the first half of the film very well indeed, making all the forthcoming events that little bit more upsetting and frightening.
Morgan nails the Father figure: pushed out by his ex-wife, and struggling to do the right thing with his daughters, Clyde is a broken man who just wants things as they used to be. We witness as he tries desperately to hold on to a Father and daughter bond with his two girls, and we also witness him desperately looking for a sign his marriage may still be fixed. You immediately take his side, and when he is ordered by his ex wife Stephanie (Sedgwick) NOT to give the girls pizza on their weekend with him, you will laugh as he does to gain favour with the girls. However, the two daughters will try your patience as they become easily offended, and tell their Mother of any rules he may break (like the pizza). As you find yourself connecting with Clyde, you will quickly lose patience with the two girls and their often devious and unsupportive ways. However, it is not long before youngest daughter Em (Calis) buys a Dibbuk Box, and things start to get a little weird.
We are introduced to the power of the Dibbuk Box in the opening scene as a woman, who tries to part with the box, is thrown around her living room and eventually killed. The scene is laughable, but climaxes nicely to make a sound and chilling impression that this box is not very nice. Now that Em has it, she begins to act up, and gets upset when not with the box, and becomes paranoid of her Dad looking in it when she is not there. A scene in school see’s a classmate try and steal the box with disastrous consequences. Naturally the Dad is blamed for Em’s freakish behaviour, and is later tricked by a possessed Em into appearing to slap her in front of older sister Hannah (Davenport). In a totally expected plot device, Clyde is taken to court and told to stay away from the girls, but the concerned Clyde decides to dig deeper into what exactly this box is, and the results are chilling.
With Clyde being such a strong, likeable character, you will cheer him on as he tries to find answers, and the slow, menacing build up and character development will easily have you engaged in the horrors to come. Director Bornedal cleverly uses the first half to tease his audience with a brilliant creation of menace using chilling music and often disturbing imagery. One particular scene involving Moth’s is hideous and is guaranteed to have your skin crawling. Images like two fingers appearing in Em’s throat, a chase through darkly lit streets, Em’s increasingly frightening staring eyes and an assault on a teacher by an invisible force all hint at a powerful and frightening climax.
Bornedal builds tension in these early moments, and while it is clear this director is a talented one, there are problems. My main issue with the way the film flows is the editing: Bornedal seems to have employed a bizarre idea of creating a scene with impact, and then cutting to the next scene but with a very brief delay of silence in-between. If this was intentional to allow the viewer to soak up the scene then it doesn’t work, and if it was not intentional then this is seriously poor editing. I would not normally complain about something so trivial, but because it happens time and time again, I feel I must say something. It breaks up the flow of the film, and kills the tension. However, there are many other tricks up Bornedal’s sleeve to frighten his viewers. His use of creepy music, a terrific use of shadows and lighting and his patience to not deliver jump scares, but instead creep you out with a sinister, almost claustrophobic atmosphere really work. With Morgan holding his character so well too, The Possession was destined for greatness.
However, some of the acting is questionable at times, and while I fully respect the fact the two girls are quite young, they do struggle with the demands of their roles. Morgan is perfect, but Sedgwick struggles too at times, and as the film reaches its finale and a Jewish Priest is brought in (Matisyahu) the acting goes beyond what is acceptable. The finale is where the film begins to really struggle, and while the ferocious events are kickstarted with an awesome scene of a man literally losing his teeth, things go from believable possession horror to a horror film designed to please the masses. The final twenty minutes border on silly and totally unbelievable, and sadly any clarity the film had is thrown out the window. Yes the ending has everything you would wish to see in a possession themed horror, but the true story element becomes ludicrous.
The Possession remains enjoyable, but things go too far come the end, and sadly the desperate need to conform to what is expected ruins all the rather excellent build up. It is doubtful the final moments will actually frighten the viewer (although it REALLY tries to), but I guess if you just go along with it, you just might have some fun. Maybe I am just too picky, but the ending just didn’t do it for me, and I felt cheated by a film that could, and should have been brilliant.
The Possession is still a way above average horror, and those looking for some easy Friday night scares can’t go too far wrong with this. Personally, I would say that The Possession is a horror film that for the well initiated will probably be laughable, but those new to possession themed horror films will find much to enjoy.
The Possession: Uncut Edition is available from Amazon