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A PG-13 horror movie. Is there a more terrifying concept known to man?
With that, "The Possession" came to this race with three quarters of its fuel tank emptied before the starting gun even went off. It's impossible to look at a horror movie not rated R and not assume right from the beginning that it's going to suck. There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, which is that 98% of the time, they do. And when they suck they suck hard. I'm not really looking forward to another.
So where does "The Possession" stand after making its case? Surprisingly its place is not at the bottom of a rock quarry filled with rat carcasses, which is where "The Apparition" or "House at the End of the Street" landed. Instead its place was more akin to standing in a ditch filled with a few inches of water. And some of the water got up over the top of its shoes and made its socks a bit wet. And it's a little chilly out. But the water is nice and clean as opposed to muddy. Maybe a few leaves in it.
What I'm attempting to say using that very forced analogy is that "The Possession" actually wasn't that bad. It wasn't that great, in fact it wasn't very good, but after seeing the duo of pig vomit that was "The Apparition" and "House at the End of the Street" I'm just so happy to be watching some likeable characters in a horror movie that I'm willing to let a lot slide for this one.
"Ah, bubala, such a mensch is this goy!"
"The Possession" follows the zany adventures of a box. Inside this box is a dybbuk, an evil spirit contained by a Jewish ritual. Once the box is opened it takes control of whoever opened it and does whatever it does that evil spirits that possess people do. It's a given that there will be creepy young girls acting spooky and parents who don't want to believe there is something wrong with their kid. You know the drill.
When Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) buys the box at a yard sale for his youngest daughter, Em (Natasha Calis) it's not too long before she starts acting creepy by saying and doing weird things, freaking out at people who threaten to take away the box, speaking in different voices, and looking not unlike a Nine Inch Nails groupie after a week locked in a small crate. On the other hand, even after all that she's still the more likable of the two daughters. But in her defense, the older daughter Hannah (Madison Davenport) has hit that "Whatever, Dad, you loser" phase of her life. She can't help that she sucks.
After a long, slightly irritating stretch where the characters are all playing catch-up with the audience who figured everything out half an hour ago, Clyde finally enlists the help of a Hasidic Jew named Tzadok (Matisyahu) to get the dybbuk out of Em. This all culminates in an exorcism in the basement of the hospital Em is staying in after collapsing after making her mom's boyfriend's teeth fall out of his skull using only the power of her rage. I feel I should bring up that at that point, Em had shown a drastic personality shift, had been found sitting in the dark in a room overflowing with gigantic moths, was seen talking to an invisible person, had stabbed her dad in the hand with a fork, had performed acts of impossible clairvoyance, had performed acts of telekinesis, and had also tried killing her mom with broken glass. And it's only now they decide to get her some help. So we're a little lite on the parental competence here.
Clearly, she's just stressed.
Most of (well, actually all of that) has to do with the mother, Stephanie. She's played by Kyra Sedgwick and is a horrible person. And I hated her character. But the odd thing is that I'm not sure if that's a point in Sedgwick's favor or against it. The reason for that is that I'm of the opinion that it's totally possible that she's meant to be something of a villain in this film. And if we're supposed to despise this person as a bad guy, Sedgwick nailed it. If not, hoo boy. If not, that's one of the worst portrayals of a sympathetic character I've ever seen.
Stephanie and Clyde are recently divorced, although we never actually learn why. No mention of infidelity is ever mentioned or even hinted at. They obviously have their issues with each other, but they still seem to be halfway amicable, or at least politely respectful. Well, at least Clyde is. Stephanie on the other hand is constantly getting on Clyde's case for literally nothing, disrespecting and condescending to him, getting right in his face and calling him a son-of-a-bitch and a rotten bastard for horrendous crimes like getting an amazing job offer and letting his daughters eat pizza, even when he's the only person who's trying to help his daughter when there's something clearly wrong with her.
Clyde actually seems like a pretty chill dude. He's friendly, he's funny, he's good with his kids, even the one who gives him flak because she's a teenager, and he's a successful college basketball coach. Dude's seemingly got it going on, and Jeffery Dean Morgan plays him with a lot of charisma and ingrained likeability that it's very easy to like this guy. Far more so than the cold ice-queen Kyra Sedgwick puts forward. The worst thing he does is miss his daughter's dance recital, which sucks and he's totally a douche for doing so, but as far as son-of-a-bitch status goes is pretty unconvincing.
And how dare you look like Javier Bardem!
Maybe something happened we don't know about, but from what "The Possession" shows us, Stephanie is an over-reactive harpy who drinks too much, treats her ex-husband like a child while not being nearly as good with the kids as he is, and in fact scoffs at the notion of getting her daughter professional help when she's looking like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" and trying to stab people. She's also shacked up with this guy who's a total stuffy jerkwad, seemingly immediately after the divorce. So that's Stephanie. Obviously, Clyde is the one totally at fault here in this situation.
And the wild part is that when they get back together at the end, I think we're supposed to be happy. I wasn't. Clyde's too good for her. I honestly found the ending which alludes to them patching it up to be quite sad, because I hated to think of Clyde being stuck with that woman.
"After your father gets done saving us by offering himself up as a sacrifice to a demon I am SO going to yell at him for messing up my hair."
I mention the Stephanie thing a lot because it really was about the most notable thing about "The Possession." While Natasha Calis did an admittedly bang-up job as the possessed girl, and the scenes with her and Jeffery Dean Morgen are very, very good from an acting dynamic perspective, overall there's not too much left to hang the rest of the movie on. The plot is nothing more than what you'd see in a random so-so episode of "The X-Files," and the scares are basically non-existent as the movie doesn't even seem to try, as if it knows it's not going to do anything with that PG-13 so they didn't bother. That's somewhat commendable in a strange way, but still, it's irritating when it's called a horror movie.
Honestly, the creepiest part of the movie is the whispering coming from the box. That's pretty sad.
There are some pretty effective things going on here, though. Whenever Em is freaking out as the dybbuk is surfacing, the odd soundtrack and effectively gross effects done to make her eyes roll into the back of her head is creepy and unsettling enough to drag out some much needed tension to the scenes. The soundtrack in particular is pretty gutsy in terms of being a bit unconventional and off-kilter. And for a movie with a generic story like this, trust me, anything composer Anton Sanko and director Ole Bornedal can do to make "The Possession" stand out in any way is a very good thing. And generally, they do a pretty good job of this. For the source material they were given I'd say they performed admirably. The fact that it doesn't outright suck is honestly a miracle.
This might have actually been scary if the trailer hadn't given it away. Now instead of creeped out, we're just saying "Oh, look. It's that scene that was all over the trailer." Good job.
But if there was a reason to see "The Possession" it would end up being almost entirely for Jeffery Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis. Morgan's already proven himself as a phenomenal actor on a number of occasions, most notably in "Watchmen," but Calis reminds me a bit of Jodelle Ferland. And if she's anywhere close to Jodelle, she's an up-and-comer to keep an eye on.
So I guess the best thing about this one was the fact that it avoided being crap. Huzzah?
THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Possession" is a PG-13 horror movie. That should tell you it's crap as a horror movie. However, it's well made enough to function as something closer to a drama with some creepy stuff going down. Don't except it to scare you, and at least you'll get some good performances out of it. It's still not great. But it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. Watch "The Unborn" to see how bad this story could have gotten.