Starting eerily similar to The Exorcist, in that it revolves around a young girl whose parents are going through a divorce/separation, The Possession soon becomes its own thing after a spooky opening scene and young Em (Natasha Calis) finding an antique box at a yard sale. Em eventually opens the box and weird stuff starts happening, most creepy of all is the apparent flock of moths that seem attracted to the girl and invade the home she lives in part-time with her former workaholic dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Eventually Em starts talking to someone who isn’t there and begins exhibiting signs of madness and physical abuse. Clyde receives the brunt of the blame for this but knows it’s got something to do with the box and so ends up discovering that the box is in fact a ‘Dybbuk Box’, a vessel containing the spirit of someone who wants back into the world which is part of Jewish folklore and Em is its way in.
The first thing you notice about The Possession is it has a weight to it, despite its mere hour and a half running time, it’s in no hurry to get things moving and really builds a palpable sense of dread. I can’t tell you how refreshing it feels to watch a big studio horror release which doesn’t rely on ADD camerawork or telegraphed scares. Director Ole Bornedal often lets his camera linger uncomfortably on a window or someone doing something mundane. Letting you think that something is going to happen only for it to cut to the next scene. We are not talking Ti West levels of slow burn here but it’s something that feels new for a mainstream release. Combined with a sparse effective music score, this really adds to the building tension and sense of dread that they so successfully convey. Special mention also has to go to young Natasha Calis, whilst not called on to do Linda Blair level histrionics, she does wonders with the role of the troubled girl, often conveying so much with a blank stare and rolling a single tear. When things do finally start to get crazy, it’s not CG overload time. What effects work there is seems minimal and meant for maximum impact so simple eye effects, or a face captured on a MRI scan manage to really put the chill in chiller and come as something of a relief after all that tension building.
The actual premise of a Dybbuk Box and the danger inherent in what it may contain is fairly unique and startlingly based on real events documented ten years ago. So despite a structure that is reminiscent of both The Grudge and the aforementioned classic film, it’s sad to report that in its final moments, The Possession gets pretty standard and predictable and gets its exorcism in there, a Jewish one but an exorcism none the less. When called upon to do the heavy and shock faced acting necessary as they watch their daughter pulled apart, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick can’t compare to Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller as they look on, despite being pretty solid throughout the rest of the film.
The Possession is a step in the right direction for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House production company. After years of their tepid horror films, this one actually gets a lot right despite eventually falling prey to what has plagued many of the other Exorcism films over the years and as such is a minor victory.