Mania Review: The Possession -

Mania Grade: C+

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  • Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, and Matisyahu
  • Written by: Leslie Gornstein
  • Directed by: Ole Bornedal
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Possession

What's in the box?

By Rob Vaux     August 31, 2012

 The Possession suffers from a fatal flaw – namely that it’s not very scary and actually gets downright ridiculous at points – but that doesn’t discount its more interesting qualities. In August, with the likes of The Apparition ruining horror movies for everyone, anything displaying any level of competence is worth noting. The Possession covers a very old tale – too old for its own good in the final equation – but it gets bonus points approaching it from a different direction… and from the fine atmosphere accompanying it.

That last part comes courtesy of Danish director Ole Bornedal, who delivers a bleak, desaturated upstate New York in which to set his supernatural thriller. The empty suburbs and perpetually cloudy sky fit the mood exquisitely well, as do the claustrophobic interiors of ostensibly cozy family homes.  To them, he brings a strong understanding of characters, notably the central family still reeling from a recent divorce. Father Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) coaches basketball at a nearby college, giving it his full attention at the expense of his family. Mother Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) has just moved in with a new beau and doesn’t expect her ex to change. They juggle their two daughters Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis) as best they can, but fractures form between them along all of the usual stress points.

The Possession does its strongest work during these early scenes, as we watch the family edge around each other’s wounds in an effort to reconnect. Clyde and Stephanie still feel for each other, but her exasperation at his priorities has clearly reached its limit. Em, the youngest, doesn’t quite understand what happened, while her teenage sister quietly seethes at her father’s perceived priorities. Cast and director hit all the notes just right, selling us on the reality before us while pointing out the ideal psychological frailties for the right sort of monster to exploit.

Said monster forms another interesting piece of the movie’s puzzle. It’s a dybbuk, an evil spirit from Jewish folklore that dwells in an old carved box and waits for an innocent human soul to devour. Em finds the box at a yard sale, and soon enough begins vomiting up insects and speaking in languages she should not know. Bornedal carefully charts the girl’s decent into evil, letting Clyde and ultimately Stephanie go from skeptics to believers in time for the big climax. He also sticks close to the Judaic roots of his chosen boogeyman, notably in Clyde’s visit to an Orthodox neighborhood in search of answers and the young rabbi (Matisyahu) who agrees to help him.  

The one-name performer – a unique icon of alternative rock who combines traditional Jewish music with reggae and hip hop – constitutes a further asset. He doesn’t look or feel like other exorcist figures, and he can deliver tons of Judaic-tinged exposition without fumbling over his words. Some of the film’s best lines belong to him, as does the final twist/coda which does far better for itself thanks to his presence.

With all that in its corner, what exactly is wrong with The Possession? Simply put, it cleaves far too closely to that other exorcism movie to give itself any breathing space. We’ve seen too many little girls possessed by demons to wonder where this is going, and the routine nature of the storyline lets us count off each beat like clockwork. With the scene set, Bornedal inexplicably descends into cheap theatrics, burying us beneath limp scares that misfire with shocking regularity. Morgan, an absolute pillar in the first half, promptly starts gnawing at the scenery in the second, where loud noises and wind machines become the order of the day. Characters develop a terminal case of The Stupids (for the love of God people, how many times to we have to tell you turn on the lights before going into the morgue!!!), and reveal shots intended to blow our minds falter on general atonality and the indifferently delivered CGI.

The Possession escapes the worst of it, again, with its adherence to cultural underpinnings. We’ve seen so many Catholic versions of this story that a Jewish one – particularly a respectful Jewish one – goes a long way.  Pity it can’t get to the finish line, unfortunately. The bloodless PG-13 nature of the horror ties the director’s hands, and the novel surface covers up a very shopworn framework underneath. Without something more to unsettle us, all of the film’s good qualities come to naught, leaving it an interesting failure rather than the terrific shocker it could have been.  We expected much less, of course; then again, the quality on display makes The Possession’s eventual failure all the more disappointing.


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dalgoda 8/31/2012 4:41:37 AM

My wife loves "possession" type movies so we are going to check this out tonight.  Can't be worse than The Devil Inside.

TheRiffs 8/31/2012 2:16:39 PM

I had no idea Matisyahu was in this!!!!!!!!!

InnerSanctum 8/31/2012 3:06:44 PM

 The "real story" looked so much more interesting.  Wonder why they went this route?  

raa2001 8/31/2012 5:52:45 PM

 I saw Possession today and I didn't think it was bad. It kept me interested.  I like that it wasn't the typical possession with the use of Catholic priest like most possession type movies.  The subtle scares were nice too.

mlaforce 9/1/2012 8:25:16 AM

I went out and watched it last night and it was good IMO...The only problem I had was the editing of the movie, there were times when scenes would be skipped, like the one where the girl is beating the hell out of her dad in the morgue, they cut to the mother, older sister and the jewish guy, then cut back to the father who is now looking in what appears to be a large shower room for his possessed daughter who now stands in the back of the of this large room, what happend to seeing her flee after beating her father like she was and him following her into that large shower type room? blocky was the editing and not fluid like it should be and a sub plot or two with no resolve comes to mind as well...

Spoiler alert! the one sub plot that comes to mind that had no real resolve in my mind was the mothers boy friend who loses all his teeth because of this demon, then bails the hell on out of dodge, never to be seen again...That felt wrong to me not knowing what happend to him...I don't know, maybe its just me and means nothing in the whole scheme of things...

mlaforce 9/1/2012 8:36:04 AM

Spoiler alert...Another thing that comes to mind is that the girl was so oppessed with this box but she was always leaving it with her father, and she left it with her teacher instead of taking it home after an incident with a school boy...Also, if the demon could be put back in the box why did it want the box around so badly? it was little things like this that took me from watching the movie and asking why? The dots just did not connect at times and it felt like...But like I said in my previous statement, I found it to be a good movie, even with it's few minor flaws...

dalgoda 9/2/2012 6:35:01 PM

We liked it and found it interesting but it wasn't super scary.  Not bad for a matinee or when it hits the dollar cinema.

ageloving 9/3/2012 7:06:54 AM

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InnerSanctum 9/3/2012 8:13:34 AM

 Did anyone catch the "real story" on SyFy?  It was on Parnormal Witness (or, some such.  Every show on there is "paranormal".)   It was an interesting tale that would have made a great movie.  Not sure why Raimi didn't latch on to that since it was a unique tale.  We've seen the girl possessed movie time and time again.

After seeing what he produces for Ghost Picgtures and his recently directed Drag Me to Hell...I'm more than a little nervous about the Evil Dead remake.  At this point, the man is rusty, or has lost his touch (he was much more innovative without a big budget.)  

Wiseguy 9/3/2012 9:21:22 AM

Saw this Friday night. Not bad but like dalgoda said not really that scary although it did have some moments.

It especially didn't help that I had seen The Exorcist like the night before which helped to make this seem even less scarier. In the end it came across too much like The Exorcist I thought. But I'd see a sequel if they go there

mlaforce yeah I wanted to see what became of  the  mom's boyfriend, even if it was just him getting fitted for dentures.

And as far as needing the box, I think til the ghost possessed the girl completely it needed the box.

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