I’m not fully sure whether or not ‘The Possession’ benefits or suffers due to the recent critical thrashing (rightly so, I might add, but you all knew that already) that ‘The Apparition’ received last week, by yours truly as well as by basically every other human being on the planet. This flick is far better than that dreck, but is it really anything special on its own, or just the beneficiary of not being on the inept level of that other work? My star rating was initially 2 stars, but I’ve gone up a half star, possibly just because it looks so good upon comparison. All in all, it’s perhaps more effective than I was expecting, but it’s also frustrating at other points. Essentially, the film never hits any real highs or lows, leaving you mostly indifferent to it. Director Ole Bornedal does a decent enough job with the scares, though he likes jump moments a bit more than he should. He’s also shamelessly cribbing ‘The Exorcist’, but at least he’s stealing from the best. What surprised me here was how deliberate the pace is in the flick. There’s an opening scare, but then things slow down for a bit, and a little more attention is paid to the characters than is the norm for a demonic possession film of this ilk. Scribes Juliet Snowden and Stiles White aren’t masters of the craft, but they didn’t do a bad job at all, especially in terms of flipping the switch on the religion behind the possession of the film’s title. The movie opens on Friday and should certainly do better than last week’s horror offering. I can’t fully recommend it, but I’ve definitely seen worse things this year.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a successful up and coming basketball coach and a divorced father or two. His ex wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) has a cordial relationship with him, but he lives for the weekends with his daughters Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis). The former is deep into being a tween and mostly goes about her own business, but Em is a bit different and Clyde is clearly closer to her. When he moves into a new house and takes them over for the weekend, they drive by a yard sale and Em is oddly drawn to an old box that we saw in the opening is pretty much home to an evil spirit. Once purchased, Em develops a strangely strong attachment to it and it’s not long before she’s acting incredibly weird and violent as well. The box clearly has something to do with it, and when Clyde discovers that it has a Jewish heritage and is known as a Dybbuk Box, he sets off to Borough Park in Brooklyn to seek out someone to help him. The reason? The spirit has possessed Em and her life (not to mention everyone else’s) is in grave danger. Along with a Rabbi’s son (Matisyahu), Clyde sets out to save Em and keep his family together. The plot is nothing new, but it’s given an interesting spin.
The acting is overall better than I was expecting, though let’s not change our Oscar predictions or anything of the sort. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has an easy charm that suits him here, even if his job is mostly to react to the craziness going on around him. He’s fitting as a reluctant hero, more so actually than when he’s been a more traditional one. Madison Davenport is fine but forgettable as the older daughter, and Matisyahu is adequate and nothing more. As for Kyra Sedgwick, she’s mostly wasted, but she’s a strong actress and doesn’t phone in the role. The highlight of the flick, acting wise? Natasha Calis, who’s real good both as the offbeat kid and then as the possessed one. She’s not going to make anyone forget Linda Blair, but she turns in the best performance in the movie. The rest of the cast includes Jay Brazeau, Brenda Crichlow, Anna Hagan, and Grant Show, but they didn’t do much for me. Calis is the top drawer.
If not for a few annoying habits, Ole Bornedal does a fine job directing the film. He makes effective use of music and gets you sufficiently frightened at the right points. That being said, he loves the jump scare too much and strangely repeats establishing shots of the roofs of buildings, which don’t have any point. Bornedal isn’t a horror master, but he’s well above average. Juliet Snowden and Stiles White should get some credit for filling their script with some interesting spins on the exorcism sub-genre, but they succumb to tropes by the end, which bummed me out a little bit. Snowden and White have about two thirds of a very solid horror movie, but they just couldn’t complete the package.
Overall, I can’t quite recommend ‘The Possession’ in this Early Review, but I can say that it’s actually a bit better than I expected. It’s mostly an effective fright flick, but it’s not without its flaws. Depending on how forgiving you are of the horror genre, this movie could be something of interest to you. It opens in a few days on Friday, so you can make your choice then. As long as you don’t choose ‘The Apparition’, I’ll be happy. This film isn’t bad, but it’s not great either, so just keep that in mind. I preferred ‘The Last Exorcism’ a few years ago to ‘The Possession’, but I don’t want to completely discourage you here. Essentially, if you think it’s your cup of tea, then it likely will be. If not, well…’The Master’ is only a few weeks away.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!