Review: The Possession / Cert: 15 / Director: Ole Bornedal / Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White / Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport / Release Date: Out Now
Any horror movie that concerns itself with demonic possession and exorcism rituals is always going to find itself on shaky ground because William Friedkin’s seminal The Exorcist is absolutely the daddy of them all and still casts a long shadow nearly forty years on. But such is the audience’s enduring fascination with spirits and possession and all things deeply unholy it’s hardly surprising that filmmakers are constantly on the look-out for variations on a theme in their attempts to scare the living crap out of us.
So here we have The Possession and an example of the truth (or the true legend) being stranger than fiction. It’s a fairly routine story; Emily (Calis) acquires an old wooden box engraved with Hebrew inscriptions and her divorced parents Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie (Sedgwick) soon become concerned when the girl starts to behave strangely, obsessing over the box and telling tales of her ‘friend’ who lives inside it. Emily’s erratic behaviour intensifies alarmingly and Clyde takes the box to his old university professor who identifies it as a ‘Dybbuk’ box, used to imprison dangerous demons which feeds on the life of their victim before eventually becoming one with them. Routine stuff for a modern horror movie - and The Possession, despite a few queasy scares and some nice demonic imagery - doesn’t really take us anywhere we’ve not gone before. What’s most interesting about the film is its connection to real life ‘dybbuk’ boxes and a news story from 2001 about just such a box which found its way to the United States and eventually turned up on eBay - pretty much a guarantee of ‘negative feedback’, we’d have thought.
The Possession is the latest from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House imprimatur and in many ways it comes from the same gene pool as 2009’s Drag Me To Hell but with nothing like that movie’s intensity. It’s a familiar story well told with a tight script, compelling and absorbing performances (Calis is especially good and provides the movie’s main shivers) and yet it never allows itself to cross the line into the truly grotesque or terrifying. Bornedal’s unshowy direction is competent enough but there are a couple of beats which aren’t as clear as they might be - the fate of one or two characters seems to have gotten muddied or lost in the edit - but the story’s own box of tricks is pretty much empty well before the credits roll and even the ‘surprise’ ending can’t breathe new life into a film which ultimately reminds us of too many other, probably much better, movies.
The Possession is, however, a pleasingly simple, old-fashioned horror film - there’s not much bloodshed and a refreshing lack of swearing - but it tries to get by with scare tactics we’ve seen before once too often. If you box clever (I’m so sorry) and keep a lid (and again) on your expectations you’ll find it’s a decent enough effort which won’t unhinge you but will, at least, pass the time until the inevitable tide of Halloween horrors is visited upon us.
Expecting rating: 6 out of 10