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'The Possession' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


'The Possession' movie poster.
© Lionsgate
Demonic possession movies are a staple of horror cinema -- you can count on a couple of major ones to hit theaters every year -- so it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, The Possession is that something special.

The Plot

Recently divorced from his ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), college basketball coach Clyde Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has custody of his two daughters, Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis), on weekends. Hannah is a typically aloof teen, while Em is a energetic 10-year-old, but that changes drastically when Em convinces her father to buy an antique wooden box at a yard sale during one of her visits. Em soon becomes unusually attached to the box, and her mood turns glum and distant -- even violent -- a metamorphosis that coincides with unexplained events around Clyde's house.

He researches the inscriptions on the box and comes to find out that it was built to capture and constrain an evil spirit from ancient Jewish folklore known as a Dibbuk. According to legend, the Dibbuk possesses and eventually sucks the life out of its host, and Clyde finds himself in a race against time to not only find someone who can help -- a young Rabbi's son Tzadok (Matisyahu) volunteers -- but also to convince the rest of his family that Em's life is indeed in peril.

The End Result

L-R: Matisyahu, Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick in 'The Possession'.

L-R: Matisyahu, Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick in 'The Possession'.

Photo: Diyah Pera © Lionsgate
The Possession makes it look so easy to make a great horror movie, you have to wonder why Hollywood -- which struggles to attain mere competency with the likes of The Apparition and The Devil Inside -- can't do it more often. There's certainly nothing groundbreaking about The Possession -- it's a straightforward possession tale with a Jewish slant rather than the typical Catholic one -- but practically every element, every decision made by the filmmakers is self-assured and spot-on.

What immediately separates The Possession from most horror movies is its sense of humanity. The cast has wonderful rapport, the dialogue is grounded and full of heart, and the family dynamics ring true, imbuing the action with a heart-wrenching gravitas. The script is particularly impressive given writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White previously penned the thoroughly mediocre Boogeyman, and the Morgan-Calis dynamic is believably tender, with Calis delivering a star-making performance that eases from sweet to sinister.

The Possession isn't as terrifying as, say, Insidious -- although it does have its white-knuckle moments -- but that's part of its charm. It doesn't go for the kill every time (figuratively and literally), preferring to slowly build anticipation and hammer home the human element. Even without a ton of "did you see that?" scenes (common in possession movies), the film's rich look, long zooms and gliding camera movement add to the haunting sense of drama and foreboding. Danish director Ole Bornedal, best known for his two Nightwatch thrillers (one Danish, one American remake), and fellow countryman cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Silent Hill, Mimic, Brotherhood of the Wolf) team up for a lush, cinematic ride that feels a bit like what Steven Spielberg might deliver if he went into straightforward horror. As it stands, The Possession is one of the best fright flicks of 2012 and probably the best demonic possession movie of the past decade.

The Skinny

  • Acting: A (The cast is without reproach -- aside perhaps for a minor supporting role that's comically overblown -- particularly Calis, who acts beyond her years.)
  • Direction: A- (Attractively shot with great cinematic appeal, even if some of the scares could hit harder.)
  • Script: A- (The overall plot isn't original, but it's well paced with crisp dialogue and a real heart.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Limited, PG-13 violence and good, but unspectacular, CGI effects.)
  • Overall: A- (Tense, dramatic and scary, yet surprisingly heartwarming thanks to a grounded script and superb cast.)

The Possession is directed by Ole Bornedal and is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences. Release date: August 31, 2012.

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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