More Creepy Girls with Long, Dark Hair
A Film Review of The Possession
By: Lawrence Napoli
As we approach October, we are beginning to see a wave of horror films attempt to make some money before the next Paranormal Activity steals everyone else’s mojo. As such, the whole “possession” motif is in full effect this time of year and it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish one from the other. They all seem to feature creepy little girls with long dark hair and some (like The Possession) are based on true stories. This movie involves exactly what the title suggests, but the tricky spin on the “true story” basis of this film is not the plot, but the setup surrounding the mysterious box that encapsulates a supposed demon. As the story goes: a college student named Iosif Nietzke sold an ancient Jewish wine cabinet box on eBay which he specifically described as having bad luck surrounding it (as he began losing his hair after acquiring it). A museum curator named Jason Haxton put in the winning bid at $280 and afterwards, several representatives of the Jewish community became aware of and very interested in this box. A Jewish newspaper, The Forward published an article about these boxes and many rabbis offered to handle (even open) the box themselves. Some went as far as suggesting that all digital imagery of the item be removed from the internet all together so as to prevent any possible spiritual invasion.
You may have seen something like this before
A few aspects of this setup have been written into this film as screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White establish some of these details within the first 5 minutes. What follows, however, is a much more involved and dangerous series of events following a divorced couple, their two daughters and the utter torment that results once this box comes into their lives. Overall the story is quite interesting, but not told in a very foreboding or terrifying manner. In fact, The Possession is quite short on suspense which really detracts from the well conceived and executed supernatural phenomena as depicted on the screen. When things happen, there is usually no dedicated buildup. Most of the themes at work in this film are an amalgam of life lessons we’ve all heard before: had selfish parents been more concerned with their children, the kids would be less compelled to pull away and be drawn to “alternative” fascination. I understand how a child’s proximity to danger (real-world or supernatural) is a horrific element in and of itself, but I feel this concept has been played out in contemporary horror so much so that every deadpan stare, every shriek and every contortionist’s wet dream doesn’t have the same impact it had 10 years ago. There seem to be a few continuity issues towards the beginning of the film (ahem, the girl and her braces), but aside from that, scene transitions and dialogue are fairly kosher.
My name is NOT Samara!
All of the performances by the cast are respectable, believable and appropriate for the types of characters they are playing. It definitely feels as if director Ole Bornedal directed his adult thespians as if this were a regular drama. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a very charismatic, yet self involved college basketball coach while Kyra Sedgwick plays a more conservative and annoyingly anal former housewife that is getting back into her own business as a jewelry designer. It is a little easier for 2 actors to portray a divorced couple if they are written only as mutually hostile or friendly, but The Possession requires equal parts throughout this film and thankfully, Morgan and Sedgwick’s chemistry is more than capable of shifting gears in both directions at any given time. Also, I found Matisyahu’s first feature acting role quite successful as Tzadok, the son of the head rabbi helping Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character. Few musicians show any proficiency in an acting environment, but between him and Lenny Kravitz, these two men could be reversing that stigma.
I am a real actor now!
The children didn’t demonstrate quite the same impact, but were just as effective in their roles. Madison Davenport’s performance as the older (and unaffected) sister, Hannah delivered your typical teenie-bopper, rebellious angst more concerned with popularity than anything else. Natasha Calis, however, had much more on her plate being the possessed sister, Em. Natasha’s transition from daddy’s little girl to creepy ghost girl was fairly impressive, but what I found more impressive was the discipline she showed in not breaking that disturbed demeanor once the box infects her character. Her filmography already has her experienced in several hard edged films and although I was impressed with her acting maturity, I was uncomfortable with some of the costume choices that were made for her character that somehow highlighted curves on an 11 year old. Perhaps I ought to be more alarmed by the glamour-shots both of these little girls have for their imdb.com pages.
Visual effects supervisor Adam Stern only had a few moments to show some really disturbing digital imagery, but the rarity enhances the disturbing to the deranged. The best digital effect was easily the fingers shown trying to crawl out of the little girl’s throat from the inside which isn’t a spoiler because it was shown in every trailer for this film. Although some other effects like the moth infestation, teeth falling out and demon manifestations were well done, none were on the same level as the fingers. This film had a budget of only $14 million dollars and chances are most of it went to the visual effects despite the fact there were only a handful of them. Still, if done correctly, these really expensive seconds of screen time prove that horror can still produce financial successes provided the rest of the cast and crew will work for scale or less.
Somebody down there?
The Possession is a very decent horror film that is light on thrills, but solid on performances. I’m hoping to get a more intense experience from at least one of the upcoming horror films, but I will not grantee it seeing how the Paranormal franchise may be turning into Saw. This film is worth seeing if your horror itch needs to be scratched, but it doesn’t distinguish itself amidst the other average movies that fill out the post-summer-blockbuster-hangover-weeks. It borrows far too much from The Ring and The Exorcist to be described as unique, but if you liked those films, you may not even care.