The ads for OLE (NIGHTWATCH) BORNEDAL’s THE POSSESSION were so painfully generic that it wasn’t difficult for me to decide it was less worth a two mile walk to the local theater than it was a three block walk to my nearest Red Box five months later. The signature image of a hand clawing its way out of someone’s mouth was so yawn-worthy it easily nullified the SAM RAIMI “presents” credit. As much as I am happy to support horror films while they’re braving the box office trenches, I don’t think I was wrong reading this one as something more appropriate for a home viewing. At the risk of sounding cheap, the spending of $1.20 as opposed to $15.00 dollars undeniably puts me in a more forgiving mood, a mood that is only heightened when watching a flick alongside best pals beer, cats and quilt. This mostly standard movie deserves mostly standard complaints, clichés abound, predictability reigns and why oh why the soggy CGI? Still, I found it entertaining enough and there were a few elements that were genuinely satisfying. To focus on how unoriginal it ends up being is unoriginal in itself, so instead I decided to pick out five things that I enjoyed…
1. Loosely based on a true story, THE POSSESSION tells the tale of a little girl named Em (NATASHA CALIS) who buys an ugly wooden box at a yard sale and gets taken over by a demon that was trapped inside it. Before making her purchase, Em looks inside a window and sees a woman lying on a bed, bandaged head to toe, frantically shaking her head and pleading with her eyes, while her wailing warning of, “No!” is muffled by the glass. This scene is both totally creepy and completely hilarious to me.
2. For a while, it’s difficult to decipher (at least for those within the film) if Em is possessed or just acting up because her parents are getting a divorce. The family estrangement helps to set things off balance and things grow even more off kilter thanks to the clever use of the separate home that Dad has recently moved into. It’s in a neighborhood that is still under construction so it’s a familiar suburban setting, yet one with an alienating, almost ghost town vibe. The underdeveloped area allows for large oppressively blank, pitch-black skies and it’s got a nice falling-off-the-edge-of-the-world feel to it. In addition there are plenty of detached CANDYMAN-like aerial shots, which I dig because I imagine they signify God looking down upon the happenings in total apathy.
3. I really liked the actors in this. JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN as dad Clyde is hyper-sympathetic and who is this MATISYAHU fellow? Apparently he’s known as “The Hasidic Reggae Superstar.” Anyway, I thought he really brought something unique as the Rabbi who the family turns to for help. He’s so unaffected and counter Hollywood that he added an almost seventies vibe. He and MORGAN click well together and it’s always nice to see such relatable folks on screen. KYRA SEDGWICK has her work cut out for not coming off as a joy killing drag and she succeeds well, particularly when she and her ex giggle through home movies representing happier days. The kids are fine too and don’t delve into the obnoxious zone they easily could have. In fact this ensemble could have been trusted to carry the weight of the film a little bit more. For example, there’s a scene where Mom confronts Em in her dark kitchen and we view the kid’s face distorted through well placed glass jars and it’s way more eerily effective than any of the less natural CGI manipulations to come.
4. I love the scene where Clyde searches for his demonically possessed child in the hospital morgue and finds her standing below a glowing red “Exit” sign. She keeps saying, “Daddy you scared me,” but rather than have her repeat it, it’s obviously a recording played in a loop. It’s got a weird hypnotic effect and mostly you just want it to stop as soon as possible. Unfortunately this transpires shortly before things get choppy and suddenly we’re in another room and I don’t understand how.
5. The score! I thought the music in this was effective and consistently interesting. So there; that’s five things that don’t suck about this movie. I guess there is still much left to be desired but hey, let’s hear it for focusing on paternal anguish for a change! It’s sad that THE POSSESSION doesn’t seem confident enough in itself to blaze more of its own trail because when it leans toward its own path it walks taller. I’m also taking off points for never showing the raccoon that invades the kitchen in CGI form or otherwise. See, there is a message for all of us here! Follow your individual strengths and never skimp on the raccoons!