The Possession (2012)

possession_xlgNow here’s yet another reminder not to judge a movie by its reviews. Unless it’s an Asylum film, of course, but that’s a stinking inbred horse of a different colour. The critics have not been kind to Danish director Ole Bornedal’s supernatural exorcism movie THE POSSESSION, calling it derivative, old-fashioned, hackneyed. I was prepared to join them, but [SPOILER ALERT!] I ended up pleasantly surprised.

The movie opens with the announcement that this is Based On True Events. Okay, okay, I know, that’s up there with all the great lines of bullshit like You Can’t Get Pregnant Doing It Standing Up and Saturday Night Live Is Still Funny, but get past this and let’s continue. The movie opens with an old woman in a suburban home, staring with intent at an old wooden box sitting on the mantelpiece in her living room – a box that seems to whisper to her. Putting on some classical music, she removes the neighbouring knick-knacks from the vicinity of the box, before picking up some holy water and a hammer in an attempt to open it. In seeming response, the old woman undergoes what appears to be a stroke, before being flung about and contorted like a doll in the hands of a spoiled child.

Even demons get the munchies...

Even demons get the munchies…

After the credits, we’re introduced to high school basketball coach Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, WATCHMEN) and Stephanie brenek (Kyra Sedgwick, from TV’s THE CLOSER). They are divorced, Clyde has obtained a new house, and shares custody with their two children, Em (Natasha Calis, from the TV adaptation of THE FIRM) and Hannah (Madison Davenport, PARASOMNIA). Though we don’t know the circumstances of the break-up, the relationship between the children and the adults, and between the adults, is as strained as you would expect, especially with Stephanie now seeing another man, creepy orthodontist Brett (Grant Show, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR).

During one of the girls’ weekend stayovers with Clyde, they stop at a yard sale, and Em finds the wooden box, encouraging her father to buy it for her, though they can’t seem to find a way to open it (Clyde’s workaholic habits don’t help). Nevertheless, that night it opens for Em when she’s alone with it, and finds a few strange items within, including a tooth, a ring and an exotic dead moth. She also hears the whispers from it.

What's eating you, kid?

What’s eating you, kid?

Over subsequent visits, more incidents occur: an unseen creature is heard in Clyde’s kitchen, leaving half-eaten food on the floor; moths appear here and there. And Em becomes more solitary and withdrawn, spending more time with the box, talking secretly with it, and eating voraciously and aggressively (stabbing her father in the hand with her fork when he scolds her). Her change in behaviour is not constant; one evening while in the bathroom, she begins to feel the urge to vomit, and when she points a flashlight into her mouth and looks down her throat via her reflection in the mirror… she sees a hand trying to crawl up from within…

I need an old priest and a young- no, wait...

I need an old priest and a young- no, wait…

Her behaviour, noticed by Clyde but dismissed by Stephanie as an expected symptom of the divorce (with the bitter implication that it’s mostly Clyde’s fault, when Stephanie learns of his plans to possibly obtain a job in another state). But Em’s deterioration continues; when she takes the box to school, and a classmate steals the box and refuses to return it, Em viciously assaults him. The box is kept at school overnight, resulting in the death of Em’s teacher when she becomes curious, a death dismissed as accidental. When Clyde tries to dispose of the box, Em is slapped around by an unseen force, making it appear as if he had struck her, leading to police and social worker involvement.

Undaunted, Clyde seeks out academic aid to identify the box, learning that it is a dybbuk box that dates back to the Polish ghettoes of the 1920s, a box designed to contain a dybbuk, an ancient Hebrew demon. Travelling to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn and meeting scholar Tzadok (American reggae and alternative rock musician Matisyahu), who agrees to assist Clyde in exorcising the demon attempting to fully possess Em. But will their efforts be too little, too late?

Her name's Em. Em for Murder!

As I wrote at the start of this review, many critics were unkind about THE POSSESSION when it was first released, and though I understood one or two of their points, I disagree about the rest. One of the strongest points about THE POSSESSION for me was the fact that it was a “genuine” movie, as opposed to an amateurish Found Footage movie. Director Bornedal (NIGHTWATCH, THE SUBSTITUTE) has stated that he was influenced in the making of this by THE EXORCIST, which becomes obvious, though if you’re gonna be influenced, better THE EXORCIST than AREA 407. So it was really refreshing to watch a spooky, well-paced, professionally-made film (featuring some truly creepy and successful music from composer Anton Sanko) with genuine actors. Speaking of which, the cast is uniformly excellent (and another refreshing change to the plethora of “young smartass documentary film crews out investigating a haunted hospital or looking for a creature in the woods”). And as a middle-aged man with a daughter of my own it was also nice to see the father as the sympathetic hero rather than the mother.

I also liked the mythology, including the symbolic importance of the moth, behind the dybbuk (allegedly based on a real box that its owner, Jason Haxton, offered to send to THE POSSESSION’s producer, a certain Sam Raimi, though Raimi allegedly declined, his own Jewish heritage making him too afraid of it). I’m less receptive to the expected talk about the strange things that apparently occurred during the production of the movie, but hey, that’s part of a long tradition of scary movies. There are faults to it, such as a lack of gore for those expecting it, some scenes that might devolve into unintentional laughs, and, as the critics have pointed out, elements that you will have seen before in other movies.

But for me the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. THE POSSESSION is available on DVD in the US and the UK, and the trailer is below. Judge for yourself…

Deggsy’s Summary:
Director: Ole Bornedal
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. Like the majority of my brain cells.

3 Responses to “The Possession (2012)”
  1. Xenolicker says:

    I haven’t read your review yet, i just wanted a quick look because i just saw the trailer for this. It looks like the devil is back! This seems to be something like “The Exorcist”, and i don’t mind that at all!


  2. Xenolicker says:

    Well, the change isn’t very big that i will see much movies reviewed here. I wish this site/blog was called “ANYTHING 3D”! I have by far not enough money to buy all the 3D stuff, so this movie basicaly has to fall into my lap off a blu-ray delivery-truck that passes me while i’m riding my bicycle, or get CGD’d. (CGD stands for Computer Generated Dimensions) I don’t know exactly what that makes me, but i don’t think it’s rude. So i can sleep safe tonight…


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