Review: The Possession – Uncut Edition / Cert: 15 / Director: Ole Bornedal / Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White / Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport / Release Date: January 21st, 2013
You feel for Clyde, the father in The Possession. He's already stuck with the ex-wife from hell and a snarky elder daughter, so it's no wonder he grows perturbed when his sweet younger daughter Emily becomes the host for a demonic spirit. Gregory Peck had the spawn of Satan foisted on him, but at least he never had to deal with all that other crap.
Another kind of haunting is at work here too, as Danish director Ole Bornedal is only the latest filmmaker to be stalked by the long shadow of The Exorcist. You can see it in the casting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays Clyde, has the dark, beetle-browed look of Jason Miller (aka Father Karras), while young Natasha Calis (glowering in the obligatory white nightie) is a dead ringer for Linda Blair. The cosy/chilly autumnal visuals, too (served up by cinematographer Dan Lausten, who shot the wonderful Brotherhood of the Wolf) hark back to that never-to-be-forgotten masterpiece.
Still, The Possession has one cool new gimmick up its sleeve, in that what we're dealing with here is an Orthodox Jewish exorcism, as opposed to the common-or-garden Catholic variety. Recollections of that joke about a Jewish bloodsucker in Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Slayers are quickly brushed aside, because the Dibbuk Box which Em finds at a yard sale (a dibbuk being a “dislocated spirit” in Yiddish folklore) turns out to be the undoubted star of the show. Dark and creepy, it opens all by itself, and out tumble big hairy moths (way traumatic, and think of the damage to the family's woollens).
Tzadok (Matisyahu), the Hasidic Jew who gets roped into combating the evil, is a pleasant enough character, but he's no Father Merrin. In fact, it's little short of amazing how, 30 years on, The Exorcist still trumps its imitators for sheer spectacle. All the same, we get a moderately rousing showdown, plus a crowd-pleasing sequence where a nosy teacher is thrown around her classroom. Sedgwick spits so much venom as Clyde's ex, you wonder if he could get a two-for-one deal and have her exorcized too. Otherwise, the performances are all thoroughly credible, with the two young girls excellent and Morgan confirming his rep as an actor on the rise.
Given that it shares script-writers (Juliet Snowden, Stiles White) and the marquee name of Sam Raimi (here the producer, there the director) with the upcoming remake of '80s hit Poltergeist, it's tempting to see The Possession as a trial run for that blockbusting project. But it's a lot more than that – a classy old-school spooker that brings much-needed dignity to the slightly dodgy child possession subgenre.
Extras: “The Real History of the Dibbuk Box” featurette / Audio Commentary by writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White / Audio Commentary with director Ole Bornedal