Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the possessed-by-demon thriller THE POSSESSION (2012), published in the April 2014 edition of the The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
I remember liking THE POSSESSION (2012) when I reviewed it with L.L. Soares for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT back in August 2012. I didn’t love it, that’s for sure, but I found it to be an average horror movie lifted by some quality acting performances. However, upon a second viewing on streaming video the other night, THE POSSESSION didn’t hold up all that well.
THE POSSESSION is the story of a recently divorced man Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who is struggling to raise his two daughters, teenage Hannah (Madison Davenport) and younger Em (Natasha Calis), and he’s only allowed to see them on weekends. Gee, where have I heard this story before? The plot about a single dad trying to raise his teenage children has been used so much in recent films it’s quickly become cliché.
The rest of the time the girls live with their mom, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and her annoying dentist boyfriend, Brett (Grant Show), the subject of one of the better lines in the movie. Frustrated with Brett’s being a busybody, Clyde says to the dentist, “And keep away from my kids’ teeth!”
The girls are having a difficult time with the divorce, especially young Em. Things grow worse when Em buys a wooden box from a yard sale, a box shown in the opening segment of the movie wielding strange powers and causing an old woman’s violent death. Yup, inside that box is a demon, and since little Em opens it, guess whose body the demon decides to enter and then possess? Clyde thought he had problems before. Wait till he gets to deal with little demon Em!
The rest of the film follows Clyde’s and Stephanie’s efforts to try to understand what’s wrong with their daughter Em, and once they find out, they turn to a young rabbi named Tzadok (Matisyahu), because in this movie the demon is a dybbuk, a Jewish demon.
The best thing THE POSSESSION has going for it are the acting performances. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was exceedingly memorable as the Comedian in the superhero movie WATCHMEN (2009), and Kyra Sedgwick, from the TV series THE CLOSER (2005-2012), turn in strong performances here as the divorced parents drawn together in the fight to save their daughter. They certainly lift this mediocre movie to a higher level.
Even better than Morgan and Sedgwick is young Natasha Calis as Em, as she gives the best performance in the movie. Early on when she’s first possessed, she is really creepy. She has the most innocent looking eyes and facial expressions, and when she starts saying these odd and sinister lines, watch out! Unfortunately, later in the movie, as the demon within her grows stronger, the film turns to make-up and special effects, and this just isn’t anywhere near as effective as watching Calis flash her angry eyes at the camera. In fact, the effects are often laughable.
Matisyahu is also very good as Tzadok in the last third of the movie.
The story here is just okay. The plot of a child being possessed by a demon obviously isn’t anything new, and THE POSSESSION doesn’t really offer a fresh take on it, with the exception of the demon being a dybbuk. This is interesting, but not entirely original. A dybbuk also appeared in the earlier horror movie, THE UNBORN (2009), starring Gary Oldman and Odette Yustman (now Odette Annable).
So, the screenplay by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White isn’t bad, but it’s nothing to write home about either. This same pair also wrote the awful horror movie BOOGEYMAN (2005), so THE POSSESSION is actually a step up for these two.
But the weakest part of THE POSSESSION is that it’s just not scary, and scenes I found somewhat scary at the movies completely lost their effectiveness in the comfortable confines of my living room. The murder scenes, for example, when the demon is miffed at its victims, are all rather lame, to the point where you might find yourself laughing out loud.
The final exorcism scene is also a disappointment, and tends to rip off more famous possession movies, including THE EXORCIST (1973).
There is one very frightening and memorable image from this movie, when Em looks inside her mouth in a mirror. What she sees in there will make you jump. But other than this, there’s not much that’s frightening about THE POSSESSION.
There’s also a scene involving a horde of CGI moths which look blatantly fake.
But worst of all, director Ole Bornedal fails to build any genuine suspense here. The most suspenseful scene in the film, when Clyde and his daughters return home and hear strange noises coming from the kitchen, proves to be a false scare. Compared to movies like INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013) which do a phenomenal job of building tension and providing shocks throughout, THE POSSESSION falls miserably flat.
The movie also doesn’t do much with its demonic wooden box. This is a central prop in the film. Yet, it’s not frightening at all. You’d think this box would fill us with a sense of dread. It doesn’t.
In the ever growing canon of possessed-by-demon movies, THE POSSESSION is a tepid entry, barely worth your time. It’s helped along by some solid acting performances by its main players, especially by young Natasha Calis, who makes for a very chilling possessed little girl, but other than this, it’s about as compelling as a plain wooden box.
Go yard sale shopping instead.