Movie Review: ‘The Possession’ wins with screams, subtlety

Katie Gile

Horror fans, your time is here! As the summer of superhero blockbusters, stoner comedies and requisite “rom-coms” comes to an end, the spookiest season is upon us. Kick-starting it with one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in years is Director Ole Bornedal’s The Possession.

The Possession tells the story of a young girl named Em who purchases what she thinks is simply a beautiful ancient box at a yard sale, but finds the box contains a Jewish demon, called a dybbuk. Suffice it to say, little Em experiences some buyer’s remorse.

The film — which is based on a true story and barely spans a month — builds the tale of a family in distress, as Em and her sister bounce weekly between the houses of their divorced parents.

Throughout the course of the month, Em becomes strangely drawn to, then manipulated by the ancient box, exhibiting a myriad of strange behaviors in the meantime.

As a movie, the subtle use of effects and unconventional pacing set The Possession apart. Rather than beginning a shallow back story and breaking into the head-spinning special effects, this film takes its time and allows the audience to witness natural character interaction. The special effects and gory glory known well to fans of the horror genre are certainly present, but not over the top.

Fans of the similar 1973 horror legend, The Exorcist, will recognize demonic genre mainstays like spine cracking, crab-walks and reversed footage. However, one of the strengths of this film is its careful and very deliberate use of a select few special effects.

In fact, the very style of the movie plays with the power of perception. As it’s based on a true story, part of my mind was occupied with trying to decipher what could have really happened and what might simply have been the exaggeration of fear. In this way, the film gets in your head and its message — that belief can bring the most terrifying things to life — keeps it there.

Performance-wise, The Possession had its share of strong points. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance as the worn and wearied father, Clyde, was perfectly balanced between strength and love. However, Kyra Sedgwick was less than impressive as harpy mother, Stephanie. While she doesn’t play a particularly lovable character to begin with and didn’t do a bad job, her performance felt shrill and the transition shallow.

Playing the possessed Em was Natasha Calis, who delivered a jarringly precise and haunting performance. With remarkable focus and perfect stillness, she was believable and ultimately quite frightening.

Filling the role of the “young priest,” or rabbi in this case, Matisyahu played the role of Rabbi Tzadok with the perfect blend of old-world reverence and modern sensibilities. As he provided the religious back story necessary to explain and combat the malevolent dybbuk, Matisyahu brought comic relief and real intensity to the spooky tale.

Overall, for its use of subtlety and careful balance of the real and the fantastic, The Possession is a great screamer to add to the “exorcism” genre. Don’t see this one alone, but definitely see it to begin into the spooky season properly.

4.5/5 Stars

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