Ole Bornedal‘s The Possession is an attempt at reviving the dying horror genre for mainstream audiences with yet another demonic possession film. This particular exorcism tale features long and haunting camera work, several spooky moments and a handful of non-offensive performances, but on the whole The Possession sinks into nothingness and becomes just another possession/exorcism film that offers up a few scares, but nothing you haven’t seen before.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is having a difficult time getting over his recent divorce. His ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) is adjusting to her new life with a new boyfriend and a positive outlook on the future. Clyde isn’t there quite yet, but he’s trying and part of that trying comes in buying a new house for him and his two daughters. He only gets to see them on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make the best of a bad situation.
While driving to the newly purchased house, Clyde and his two girls stop at a yard sale to purchase a few items. His youngest daughter Em (Natasha Calis) singles out this old box that has some sort of writing carved into the sides. She begs her dad to buy it and he does.
What follows is 29 days of hell as Clyde’s daughter Em slowly gets possessed by an uninvited demon.
The Possession is a fairly common exorcism tale that plays out straight-forward without ever pulling any real punches. That kind of works for the film though, because Jewish director Ole Bornedal takes a seamless plot and makes it almost feel innovative. He does so with the camera work. It’s haunting and almost old-fashioned in the way that it follows the characters around in the distant, always hanging back to let the feeling of dread slowly take over.
Bornedal uses this haunting imagery as an effective tool, because The Possession slowly brews into a frightening little horror film that’s only problem lies within the script and its inability to surprise or truly scare for long periods of time. Still, Bornedal clearly understands how to frame a shot and to properly pace out a scene without too much jump-cutting and quick scares. By doing this he makes The Possession feel like a more traditional horror film, which isn’t something we see much of these days.
The performances rarely drive a horror film and The Possession is sadly no exception. Jeffrey Dean Morgan‘s dad character is caring, but oblivious at first and then eventually he comes around with all of the answers after extensive internet research and road tripping. Morgan hasn’t had the most successful career in Hollywood (aside from perfectly portraying The Comedian in Watchmen), but his role at least reminds us that he can give a good performance. His main problem is a direct result of the character and the way he’s presented, which means Morgan simply follows the beats of your typical horror film.
Natasha Calis is a tad more effective as the possessed Em. She’s mostly your typical young kid at the beginning of the film, but by the halfway point she completely engulfs the flames of hell (or whatever you believe in) with a darker voice and a physical posture that intimidates. She never reaches the effectiveness of something like The Exorcism, but for an actress that I’ve never heard of she definitely makes a lasting impression.
Producer Sam Raimi is evident in the film. There’s a few scenes that play out as over-the-top camp and only one man can do that so effortlessly in the genre of horror. Raimi’s influence on the film isn’t too hard to spot, but I found it refreshing that Bornedal only uses trademark Raimi stuff at the appropriate times, where things need to be a little silly in order for the plot to sit well.
There’s nothing I precisely hated about The Possession, but there’s not much about it that strikes me as great horror. Director Ole Bornedal is a gifted filmmaker and someone to keep an eye on, but the film’s story is so regurgitated and without any creative flavor. There are a couple scenes towards the end that might make you jump and rightfully so, but only because Bornedal builds up proper tension and executes at just the right moment. Once the scares pass you’ll probably end up sitting there wondering what the whole point of it all was.
I wish I could tell you, but I wasn’t moved at all by The Possession, despite its numerous attempts at being something strong that the horror genre so desperately needs. The Possession won’t disappoint you (unless you actually had high hopes for it), but it won’t really surprise you either. It just sort of scares you and then allows you to move on without much recollection.
The Possession – 6/10