Marketed with those words that will make most horror fans cringe nowadays – “based on a true story” – The Possession may just surprise people with the fact that it’s actually quite good entertainment. Oh, it’s complete nonsense, but it’s nonsense that’s all put together with conviction. There are some decent performances, good special effects and a number of enjoyable set-pieces as the hokum keeps building up to a decent finale. Think a bit of The Exorcist crossed with a bit of The Omen (though it’s not as good as either, of course) and given a sprinkling of Judaism and you pretty much know what you’re getting into.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Clyde, a loving father who just doesn’t always manage his time as well as he should, which sometimes incurs the wrath of his daughters (Em, played by Natasha Calis, and the slightly older Hannah, played by Madison Davenport) and his ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick). To make up for the times when he has let them down, Clyde tends to spoil the girls when he can and that’s how they end up leaving a yard sale with Em holding on to a strange, apparently sealed, box that she took a liking to. Unbeknownst to them all, obviously, the box contains an evil spirit that will try to take over anyone unwise enough to open it. I think you know what’s coming next. Yes, Em opens the box and it’s not long until her behaviour starts to change dramatically, people around her start to suffer strange accidents and lots and lots of moths get in people’s faces. Okay, you might not have guessed the bit about the moths, but I’m sure the rest was predictable enough.
Director Ole Bornedal certainly knows what he’s doing as he runs through an array of horror movie standards. It doesn’t really matter that there’s nothing original on display here, what matters is that it’s all handled effectively and mixed together into a satisfying final product.
Writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White have taken the tale of an allegedly haunted dybbuk box and allowed their imaginations to run wild, which is no bad thing when it leads to so much fun.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is very good in the main role, and Kyra Sedgwick also does well, but the two young girls – Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis – have plenty to work with and do good stuff. Admittedly, Calis has one or two moments of standardised eye-rolling, teeth-baring, evil child behaviour, but she also does well when vulnerable and battling against whatever is happening to her. Grant Show is given the most thankless role, playing Brett, the new man in Sedgwick’s life, while Matisyahu fares better, coming along (playing the knowledgeable Tzadok) in the third act to offer help and lead the characters toward a final battle.
It’s pretty lightweight, mainstream horror on display here and easy for fans of the genre to turn their noses up at and dismiss. However, there are many nice little touches throughout the movie, some decent jump scares and a real sense of . . . . . . earnestness about the whole thing. It doesn’t try to be hip or ironic or post-modern and it’s all the better for it. I thought it was solid entertainment from start to finish.
DIRECTOR: OLE BORNEDAL
WRITER: JULIET SNOWDEN, STILES WHITE (BASED ON AN ARTICLE BY LESLIE GORNSTEIN)
STARS: JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN, KYRA SEDGWICK, NATASHA CALIS, MADISON DAVENPORT, MATISYAHU, GRANT SHOW, ROB LABELLE
RUNTIME: 92 MINS APPROX