I was officially getting over all watered down exorcism movies long before I sat down to watch THE POSSESSION thanks to a slew of unimaginative efforts lead by THE RITE. However, defying my battered perception of modern exorcism movies I was still pretty excited to see THE POSSESSION- due mainly to the trailer that I thought looked like it had some pretty rad things going down within it. The trailer turned out to not be a complete lie, but what we have here is still a pretty watered down and only slightly above average possession/exorcism flick.
The cast is lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a father desperate to seek help for his daughter that is slowly being possessed by a dybukk trapped in a box they purchased at a yard sale. Morgan carries the majority of this film, but he shares in his efforts with his young daughter, Em played by Natasha Calis. The young actress is asked to do quite a bit in this film from pulling off dead blank stares to shrill freak outs that both are way out of her normal character before she begins to be possessed. The range of emotions can be tough for any young actor/actress and she really does a great job more often than not. Morgan on the other hand plays a likable and sympathetic character that, due to the slow pace for most of the film I grew to really feel for and relate with. A vast majority of the supporting cast on the other hand are at times embarrassingly bad, which tend to drag down a lot of what there is to like about the two central performances. I will give a shout out to Matisyahu as well, who I thought would be one of those distractingly bad performances, but turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable- even if moments of his role I did provide me with what I’m assuming were unintentional laughs.
For the most part Ole Bornedal’s film is more than half of a family drama/thriller and about a quarter horror film. The vast majority of the film deals with a father’s struggle with divorce and dealing with his youngest daughter’s increasingly strange behavior. The horror elements shove their way into the film here and there before disappearing for the dramatic response to the horrors and then take over in the last act. I suppose that can be said for a lot of different horror films, but here a lot of the full fledged horror elements are the weakest and least interesting parts of the film.
If I were to tell you that at some point in a film where there really is no question as to whether the victim is possessed or crazy and there is eventually creature effects in the film how excited would you be? That all depends on what you expected from the film- if you expected a straightforward horror film I’m betting you’d be pretty stoked to get to that and you’d be supremely disappointed. If on the other hand you knew this was a mostly slow paced family drama/horror you might be pleasantly surprised- and that’s only if the inclusion of said effects made sense and were filmed well and looked good, which they weren’t. The best parts of the finale are shrouded in darkness and masked by a strobe light effect that appears to be a choice to save money on effects, but also to disorient the viewer into thinking what’s happening is scarier than it is silly. Given the dead serious tone of Morgan’s performance the sillier moments such as this severely harm the overall experience, not to mention really stretch the already thin acceptance of this as a true story.
For every good thing THE POSSESSION has to offer there’s at least one two things that threaten to shatter its good will. The sad thing is that with all the film’s potential it fails to cash in on the great performances from the two leads in favor of a finale that just doesn’t fit the rest of the film. The tension is there, there are two great performances and the setup works, but somewhere along the line Bornedal and company just couldn’t come up with the magic to make the whole film something memorable. THE POSSESSION overall is only slightly able to muster a recommendation from me, but a recommendation that I still am not fully confident in.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)