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8.25 out of 10

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Possession

The Demon Inside

Rated: PG-13  Mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences
Release Date: August 31, 2012
Runtime:  1 hour 31 minutes

Director: Ole Bornedal
Writers: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Cast:  Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Jay Brazeau, Madison Davenport, Matisyahu, Grant Show

SYNOPSIS:  A young girl buys a locked engraved wooden box at a yard sale, unaware that a malicious ancient spirit is trapped inside and wants to possess the girl.

REVIEW: Writer/Director Ole Bornedal, noted for the Ghost House Underground film The Substitute, has been interested in film from an early age. He has written and directed several Danish acclaimed films, and makes his major American horror debut in a demonic possession sub-genre that is filled with all-time classic films that are difficult to top or compare to. Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, scribes of the 2005 Boogeyman and the 2009 Nicolas Cage film Knowing, this film takes a religious suspense story and brings it a little closer to home. 
The product of a divorce from their mother Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick, Man on a Ledge), the process has been difficult on the two daughters of father Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Watchmen) having visitation and custody rights of Em (Natasha Calis, NBCs The Firm) and sister Hannah (Madison Davenport, Over the Hedge). During the trip to Clyde's new house, Clyde and the girls stop at a yard sale. Em is attracted to an antique engraved box while Clyde buys dishes and other stuff for the new house. Later that night, Em and Clyde attempt to open the box, but the ornate wooden box does not seem to have any way or latches to open its lid. Awoken during the night by strange murmuring, she brings the box to bed and catches her clothes on a hidden latch that opens the box. With strange and old jars inside, filled with toys, a tooth, and other odd treasures, the box becomes Em's favorite possession. Over the next few weeks, Em becomes increasingly violent and withdrawn from her school work, family and friends, and becomes more attached and possessive of the box. In an effort to help his daughter, Clyde researches the carvings on the box and discovers that it is not just an ordinary box - but an antique device meant to trap and imprison an ancient demon known in the Jewish faith as The Taker of Children. As a last resort, Clyde seeks the advice and help from a Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Tzadok (Matisyahu,Matisyahu Live!) to rid his daughter of the growing threat from within.

The Possession is a creepy and stylish suspense thriller in the vein of late 70s and early 80s religious suspense thrillers like The Exorcist and The Omen. Certainly, The Possession is not of the caliber of either of the two aforementioned classic films, but The Possession hearkens back to that era where the dread of the story is more paramount than quick cheap scares. Director Ole Bornedal has gained enough experience in the horror genre to know his way around a movie set. Filled with beautiful imagery and startling camera work, Bornedal pay homage to the classics of the past without tarnishing the story of the present. Sure, there are a few ‘possession’ movies a year, most notably The Devil Inside from last fall and The Rite in recent theatrical release, but Bornedal makes great use of returning the story to a family unit – albeit a broken one.
The action and suspense starts immediately, and really does not let up. From the first moments where a middle-aged woman cleaning her house, hearing whispers from the mysterious dibbuk box, decides to take a ballpeen hammer to the artifact - and fails to dire and near-fatal consequences - to the first moments that Em becomes captivated by the same box at a yard sale, the story maintains a sense of mounting dread and suspense. And as Em becomes more engrained with her connection to the box and the demon within it, the physical and psychological damage to Em, and the fractured family that loves her, may be too much to overcome.

What makes a solid and creepy story better in this case is the strength of the visuals and the strength of the film's actors. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a neglectful dad who abandoned his family in favor of his coaching career, but who is looking to make amends as best as he can. He is intelligent and thoughtful, a bit too much of both to be in a movie of this type. He seems like a real person, not just a character. The same can be said for Kyra Sedgwick. The story really goes together, though, with the casting of Natasha Calis as the daughter afflicted, Calis shows both the demeanor of a girl dealing with the difficulties of divorce and the addiction and terror of being slowly consumed by a ancient spirit. Madison Davenport brings a solid performance as Hannah. Grant Show, as Stephanie's new boyfriend Brett, brings a stability to her life while wedging instability to the rest of the family unit. Rounding out the cast is Matisyahu as the young Jewish Rabbi who answers the pleads of a desperate father who just wants his daughter back.

As for the visuals, one can not really do better than oversized moths swarming in a closed room or out of one's mouth. Add in grotesque deformities of an innocent terrified girl, and extreme brutality against a man and his pearly whites, and you have a film that keeps giving until it hurts. The tone is grainy and sparse, jumping between scenes with abrupt jump-cuts, cuts to black, or fades to black. My only issue was the choice for the sound editing where a crescendo of strings at the end of a suspenseful scene cuts off to silence during the jump-cut to the next scene with a different score. Sometimes its worked sometime not.

The Possession is a rare flick that is better than its trailers. It delivers on story, performances, creepy visuals, and a few wonderfully placed demented scenes that make it all worth sitting on the edge of your seat. It is not a soon-to-be classic, but The Possession is nine tenths of the law. 

WORTH:  Matinee or DVD

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