September 2, 2012

Movie Review: The Possession

I've said it before and I will likely say it again, The Exorcist ruined exorcism movies. This is not a wholly negative statement, but you have to admit, whenever you see an exorcism movie, you are comparing it to The Exorcist. It is just the way things are. When you have a movie that succeeds so well, is considered an all time great, and regularly tops scariest movie polls, it is hard to follow it up with something that feels fresh. Fortunately, or not, filmmakers continue to try and make new ones. They are no all terrible, but none of the, are The Exorcist either.

In the past handful of years we have gotten a few more exorcism movies of varying quality. I liked The Last Exorcism and The Rite, while The Devil Inside did nor work so well and Exorcismus felt like a clone of past films. The good ones manage to bring something a little different to the table. The Last Exorcism took Catholicism out of the equation and The Rite treated religious belief with surprising respect.

Now we have The Possession, which, fist glance, just looked like another movie tha we we seen many times before. It also looked to be yet another horror movie to suffer from studio interference, it originally garnered an R rating, but went back to the editing room to get down to a PG-13. This is not usually a good sign. So, I was a little surprised to see positive buzz popping up around the web. None of it was high praise, but it was definitely more positive than I was expecting.

The Possession has a broken family at its center. Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is diverted from Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick), they have two daughters, Emily (Natasha Calis) and the older Hannah (Madison Davenport). Clyde seems like a good guy, but one who was always more wrapped up in his work as a college basketball coach than being there for the family. They have split custody of the two girls and Stephanie is moving on, dating a guy named Brett.

Things begin to get a little strange when Clyde buys Emily a strange wooden box at a yard sale. The box appears to have no seams and is inscribed with Hebrew characters. Emily becomes more and more attached to the box, her mood changes, she stars talking funny, and it becomes clear that something is definitely up. Clyde senses some changes but is at a loss of what to do and Stephanie blames it on the divorce.

Well, it turns out, the box (which does open) is a dybbuk box, a container used but hose of the Jewish faith to trap evil spirits and demons. This one likes to mess with young, innocent children. The demon begins to take over Emily and it is up to Clyde to figure out a way to stop it.

The third act features Clyde visiting a Hasidic neighborhood to seek help from a rabbi. It is a rather humorous scene to watch Jeffrey Dean Morgan wade through a veritable flock of Hasidic Jews. He finds help in the form of Tzadok (Matisyahu) and a Jewish exorcism.

Frankly, there is a lot here that we have all seen before. It is essentially a Jewish version of The Exorcist. What makes the movie work as well as it does comes down to a few factors. One of them is the Jewish factor, I have never seen a Jewish exorcism movie before and that felt somewhat fresh to me. A second factor are the performances, they are generally quite good and helped get me invested on the story. A third factor would be the direction, Ole Bornedal does a nice job with pacing and the building of tension and subsequent release.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan gives a believable performance. He does good work as the absentee father who begins to realize what he is missing and that there is something going on here. Likewise, Natasha Calis is very good as the possessed pre-teen. There is something quite creepy about her performance that goes beyond the usually blank stares and the like. These performances help sell the terror and the reality of the possession.

I really like the way the tension builds and builds with music crescendos only to strike and smash cut to a serene overhead shot and a recurring musical tone. The creek atmosphere of the unknown and of dread is palpable. While it is not necessarily anything new, everything is executed well and the finished product is eerie and effective. It is a solid entry in the exorcism sub-genre.

Or.... Maybe I was just happy to have a supernatural movie that was better than last week's The Apparition, that was just terrible. You be the judge.


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Unknown said...

I'm guessing this: "Or.... Maybe I was just happy to have a supernatural movie that was better than last week's The Apparition..."
I agree with most of what you thought, the acting was good, nothing was TOO out there, except for the kitchen scene with mom and daughter and the teacher scene, those were particularly dumb. But the movie did seem to miss something. It just wasn't scary enough. I'm guessing it was the PG13 that did it.

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