It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care if a horror movie scares me anymore. Sure, on-screen creepy-crawlies send an undeniable chill down my spine, but Hollywood’s go-to scares – such as ghosts, vampires, zombies and demons – just don’t do the trick. I still appreciate horror movies, even if they don't give me nightmares, because I like the fact that filmmakers are trying to get the audience to have a visceral reaction while sitting in a darkened theater. But so many modern horror films are lazy about it, relying on tropes instead of exercising a creative muscle and finding new ways to affect their audience. Ole Bornedal’s The Possession is nothing more than an amalgamation of some of the more popular examples of these and the result is boring, repetitive junk.
In fact, if there’s something impressive about The Possession it’s the sheer number of clichés that it manages to include in its 92 minute runtime (though, I should mention that it feels a hell of a lot longer than that). Based on a true story – of course – the movie centers on a divorced dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who, in hopes of purchasing his daughter’s (Natasha Calis) affection, buys her a “dybbuk box” at a local yard sale. What he doesn’t know is that the box contains a demon – of course – and when the daughter opens the box she becomes possessed by said demon – of course. After numerous interminable scenes of the little girl acting bizarre, the dad eventually goes to a holy man to try and get the demon exorcised. The only thing even remotely “new” is the fact that there’s a Tzadik (played by reggae/alternative rock musician Matisyahu) performing the exorcism instead of a priest, but even that was already done in David S. Goyer’s 2009 film The Unborn. Others may feel differently, but I don’t find counting banalities particularly entertaining.
Despite having a horror legend like Sam Raimi serving as a producer, the film doesn’t even manage to be appealing aesthetically. Scenes don’t so much end as have the next one begin, making the movie feel like it was edited with a jackhammer instead of a scalpel. Many just cut to black and then fade into the next sequence, which completely undercuts any kind of tension or tone the film striving to achieve. Even the score comes across as lazy, with its single piano notes adding nothing to the atmosphere and simply saying, “Oh, just so you know this movie does have some music playing in the background.” There are cases where a simply story can be saved by technical ingenuity and creativity, but this is not one of those cases.
The Possession is a PG-13 movie that probably should have been an R, and watching the “horror” scenes you question what the potential could have been with the more restrictive rating. While there are two scenes in which characters are thrown violently around rooms, they are cut so quickly and we see so little that they end up having very little effect on the audience. This winds up putting all of the pressure on “creepy” scenes in which the little girl, where she is surrounded by moths or finds fingers growing out of the back of her throat, but, again, it’s hard to be chilled by something you’ve seen hundreds of times before.
I’m certain that there are still creative, interesting stories to be told based around the idea of demonic possession, but this one can barely be considered an effort. To the film’s credit, the performances, particularly those by Morgan and Calis, are solid, but there’s only so much that actors can do with such empty material. Chances are you’ve already seen a movie exactly like The Possession once or twice before, so don’t bother wasting your money on it again.