*** (out of 5)
August 31, 2012
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as CLYDE
Natasha Calis as EM
Kyra Sedgwick as STEPHANIE
Jay Brazeau as PROFESSOR MCMANNIS
Madison Davenport as HANNAH
Matisyahu as TZADOK
Grant Show as BRETT
Directed by: Ole Bornedal
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I find it difficult to talk about “The Possession” without in some ways comparing it to the previous week’s release of “The Apparition.” Both are horror films released in August, presumably because they were scared of the bigger scares coming in October with “Sinister” and “Paranormal Activity 4.”
Also, both “The Possession” and “The Apparition” are rated PG-13 and deal with evil spirits. They are aimed at the same audience, and both are being raked across the critical coals, at least somewhat unfairly.
You can bemoan the evils of PG-13 horror all you want, but this is nothing new. It wasn’t even new when the PG-13 rating was established in 1984. Go back to the 70s and 80s, and you’ll find plenty of PG-rated horror films, some of them quite good. A little know monster flick called “Jaws” comes to mind with that.
There’s nothing wrong with releasing a bloodless (or mostly bloodless) horror movie that is meant to just play as a creepy film. Not everything has to be “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” or “Friday the 13th.” And there’s nothing about the advertising of “The Possession” (or that of “The Apparition,” mind you) that would lead you to believe it’s an overtly scary film.
“The Possession” tells the story of a girl named Em (Natasha Calis) whose parents are divorced, and she’s having a hard time adjusting to their new lives. On her way to her father’s place for the weekend, they stop at a yard sale, and she finds a big wooden box, which she buys. Upon returning home, she opens the box and inadvertently releases a Dybbuk, which is a malevolent Jewish spirit that manifests inside her.
I’m not going to make the case that “The Possession” is necessarily a good movie. It has some really awful and nonsensical parts in it, after all. For example, Em finds a ring in the Dybbuk box and wears it throughout much of the film. Even when her behavior becomes erratic and violent, no one seems to notice the massive ring and the sickly discoloration it’s causing on her hand.
Other moments in the film that are actually quite laughable, from overreacting characters to an overwrought (though at times strangely effective) soundtrack that accompany jump-scares. Of course, the most unintentionally hilarious moments are when Em have drawn-out conversations with her father about “her box” and how he’s not to touch it. (Note: If you don’t understand why this is hilarious, you’re a better person than I am.)
The characters do some of the dumbest things on the planet, but it’s a horror film, after all. If it were a horror movie with smart and observant characters, the scares would last about five minutes.
But even with all these warts, “The Possession” is amazingly watchable. Like any demonic possession film, it borrows from the granddaddy of them all, “The Exorcist.” In fact, especially at the climax, things escalate too quickly to a point of call-back to William Friedkin’s classic. However, these beats we’ve seen so many times before at least play out effectively, if not formulaically.
What makes this movie stand out is the use of the legends of the Dybbuk, which gives the film a new angle on the standard story. While we’ve heard of these spirits in recent films like “The Unborn” and oddly enough the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man,” it still feels fresh in this movie. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t know a damn thing about Dybbuks, but how they are explained in this movie is effective for a light horror film.
Like “The Apparition,” “The Possession” is slumber party horror movie fodder. It’ll likely only scare 13-year-old girls, but at least it had some decent atmosphere and was interesting enough to keep me watching.