Movie Review: The Possession
By Matthew Huntley
September 13, 2012
It takes Clyde a little too long, but he finally attributes these incidences to the box, and after Em goes on a violent rampage at school to get it back, he realizes the inexplicable grip it has on his daughter and decides to throw it away. But Em remains drawn to it and Clyde has no choice but to entertain the notion that perhaps the box is alive in some way. In a well-acted scene, he takes it to a colleague, a professor (Jay Brazeau) who specializes in demonic possession. What he tells Clyde, I won’t reveal, since the movie’s effect relies on us learning about the box just as characters do, but I liked the manner in which the professor irreverently makes light of the box’s powers and contents, which makes us question whether or not he really believes the things he teaches his students. The professor’s attitude was a fresh approach to familiar material.
Eventually, Clyde finds himself in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in New York City, beseeching the local rabbi for help. The rabbi solemnly tells Clyde that his situation is in the hands of God now, but his son, Tzadok (Matisyahu), says it’s Jewish law for him to help, which leads to the movie’s powerful climax in a hospital and one of the best religious purification scenes I’ve seen in the movies, and there have been many - too many. Director Ole Bornedal pulls out all the stops and the lighting, effects, sound design and editing work masterfully together to create a sequence that’s chilling, tense and scary. Based on the slow and perfunctory first half, I didn’t think the movie had it in it, but it rises to the occasion.
The performance by young Natasha Calis also deserves mention. She’s remarkable as Em and seems to know how important it is that we believe this trouble child is not just changing physically, but also behaviorally. Calis, intense and focused, convinces us of that.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the movie takes too long to get going. The first half has the standards of a B horror movie and it was frustrating to initially watch the characters behave like, well, horror movie characters instead of real, credible people. For instance, when Clyde rescues his daughter from the room full of moths, he’s too calm about it and doesn’t treat the incident as anything more than infestation, despite his house being brand new. I also didn’t buy the scene when Em’s schoolteacher (Brenda Crichlow) sits all alone in her classroom, late at night, grading papers in the dark. Do teachers really do this? The final scene is also a letdown, mostly because it seems tossed in just to appease horror aficionados. I was hoping the movie, which had taken off by this point, would have opted for intelligence and cleverness over routine sensationalism. But alas, it comes back to the same horror formula it worked so hard to overcome.
Given the excessive “possession” movies to come out of Hollywood every year, I wasn’t expecting much from The Possession, but I will say it’s one of the better examples of its kind. If the setup had been as crafty and thoughtful as the payoff, and had the filmmakers deep-sixed some of the more blatant horror conventions, it might have been a wholly substantive experience instead of just a partial one.