Since the release of The Exorcist nearly 40 years ago – yes, it’s been that long – there have been so many horror films dealing with demonic possession that they now constitute something of a sub-genre. As a result, it’s rather difficult to come up with a new angle from which to approach this material, though 2010’s The Last Exorcism managed to deliver some genuine thrills and a fresh perspective with its found footage approach.
Ole Bornedal’s The Possession brings little new to the table but it is a very capable thriller that effectively builds a sense of suspense and palpable dread and contains two moments that will stay with me for quite some time. Taut and efficient, the film runs a scant 92 minutes, with its most daring move being that it spends a sufficient amount of time developing its characters. It pays off in the end as viewers will find themselves emotionally invested in the family that gets far more than it bargains for after an ill-advised purchase at a garage sale.
Inspired by a Los Angeles Times article about a “dybbuk box” that was for sale on eBay (http://articles.latimes.com/2004/
jul/25/entertainment/ca-gornstein25), the script by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White wastes little time dropping us into the familial drama at its center. Clyde and Stephanie (Jeffery Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) are a recently divorced couple that is still adjusting to being exes. The one thing they have in common is their mutual concern for their daughters – 15-year-old Hannah (Madison Davenport) and preteen Em (Natasha Calis) – and how they’re adjusting to their parents’ separation. All is going as well as can be expected until Clyde and the girls stop by a garage sale to get him some dishes for his new house. Plates, cups and saucers are found as well as a mysterious wooden box that has no discernible seams or way to open it. However, Em, who makes the purchase, knows there’s something within and forms an unhealthy attachment to the object.
Bornedal does a wonderful job slowly building a sense of dread around the mysterious object. While some may complain that the story moves too slowly, the director’s approach is vital in building towards its effective conclusion. Calis is a revelation here as the 13-year-old actress effectively displays her character’s sense of insecurity, innocence and anger as the demon in the box – an evil spirit known as a “dybbuk” in Jewish folklore – takes her over. We feel Em’s pain and fear due to the actress’s fine effort, all of which pays off handsomely in the film’s final set piece – an exorcism for the ages – that has an emotional impact that few films of this sort achieve.
Equally fine is Morgan, a solid actor who still hasn’t caught the big break he deserves. As Clyde searches for answers as to why his daughter has become so violent and finds some unexpected help from a Hasidic Jew named Tzadok (rapper Matisyahu), Morgan effectively conveys the desperation every parent feels when their children are suffering. This is never more evident than during the final exorcism scene in which Bornedal employs a strobe light effect and some disturbing computer-generated images to deliver a final shock that will stay with you long after the end credits role.
The Possession ends up being a welcome surprise, as it provides an unexpected high note at the end of a dismal summer season. There’s been quite a drought where fans of horror films are concerned, yet this should more than satisfy them as we head into fall when this sort of fare is more common.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.