Get a large pot. Take a cup of The Exorcist, three tablespoons of The Shining, two teaspoons of Paranormal Activity, add a dash of The Lord of the Rings, and even a pinch of Jumanji. Throw in some eye of newt for the heck of it, and stir this horror stew vigorously. The result is The Possession, the newest horror flick from Lionsgate.
Directed by: Ole Bornedal
Written by: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Starring: Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick
Why do I mention all these other films? Because The Possession does not seem to have an identity of its own—and I don’t mean that as a pun. If we were talking literary terms we might call this movie a pastiche, but to talk in literary terms might be to give the film too much credit. This is not to say the movie does not satisfy the first goal of most horror films –to frighten—for it does, but it doesn’t scare us in any new or meaningful way.
You’re best off seeing this in a theater instead of waiting for DVD or cable because it’s a much more fun movie to see with a raucous audience (such as the one with which I saw the movie). If you were to watch The Possession alone, you’d be unable to share the collective gasps, snide remarks, and general murmurings of total strangers, which made what probably would be a dull movie watching experience into a pretty enjoyable one. Movies like The Possession are why we go to the movies and why we will always go—despite DVDs, streaming, and smart phones. It’s a case study for what the movie-going experience is all about, psychologically speaking.
This doesn’t mean I liked the movie all that much, but I did have fun watching it and came away with the feeling that my time had not been wasted.
The Possession is the story of a recently broken family. Stephanie (played by Kyra Sedgwick) has divorced Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and booted him from the house. He has weekend custody of their two daughters, Hannah and Emily. Clyde needs some plate ware for his new home, so he stops off with the girls at a yard sale. At this yard sale, next to Timmy’s old baseball cards and Aunt Jenny’s collection of 1950s nightgowns is, of course, a Dybbuk Box. A Dybbux Box is an item from Jewish folklore in which it is said evil spirits have been imprisoned.
Emily loves the box and Clyde buys it for her. You need not know more other than the predictable. The demon begins to possess the young girl, and this being a matter for the Hebrews (and Fathers Merrin and Karras being unavailable) a young Orthodox Jew comes to assist the family exorcise the evil spirit.
The late, great screenwriting guru Blake Snyder classified certain horror movies as ‘monster in the house’ archetypes. That is, to write a successful horror film, you need a ‘monster,’ ‘a house’ and, most importantly, ‘a sin.’ The house did not need to be literal, Alien and Jaws both falling into this category, but you simply needed something stalking people with the subtext of human weakness relating to the pursuit. The Possession seems to indicate that Clyde’s ambitions as a basketball coach caused him to be absent from the marriage and the reason it broke up. His devotion to save his daughter from the dybbuk absolves him of this sin and reunites the family at the end.
This, however, is thin gruel in our movie stew. Any theme or point The Possession is trying to make is an afterthought, and it will certainly not go down as one of the great horror films. Still, it’s entertaining. The soundtrack is a little goofy at times but the production value is strong and the director and editor know how to deliver thrills and chills. See this movie to have fun, but don’t expect anything else.