The Possession

The Possession (2012)
★ / ★★★★

A woman stands in an empty room in front of a wooden box with strange engravings. Unable to withstand the ghostly whispers coming from it, she retrieves a hammer with the intention of destroying it. But before she is able to swing her weapon, she is flung across the room several times by an unknown force and her body is contorted in ways that no average person can achieve without getting sprains or broken bones. When her son enters the house and sees her body, he lets out a scream of horror.

“The Possession” is the kind of horror movie that is more than willing to go for big scares but its efforts are ultimately ineffective because the screenplay lacks the patience to build up a scene and then escalate to a catharsis. It is like watching an overconfident classmate who goes to an important exam without studying and then watching him deflated and regretful for not putting in the time to be more prepared.

Its supernatural core is anchored by a would-be realistic divorce situation between Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). Clyde has purchased a new home and Stephanie has been seeing a new guy. Clyde gets their two daughters, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), on weekends. Although Morgan and Sedgwick are good actors and they try hard to make the best of the material they are given, the picture is bereft of emotional core. One especially cheesy scene involves Clyde and Stephanie reminiscing about their marriage while watching a video on a computer. The way it is shot hammers us over the head that there is still a part of them that wish to get back together. While the supernatural element being the glue to repair what is broken between the ex-couple can work, it requires a certain level of subtlety that we barely notice its whirring machinery.

The picture is not shy from utilizing special and visual effects, from a roomful of moths to a hand coming out of a person’s mouth. The problem with this approach is that nothing much is left to the imagination. It feeds us the so-called scary images and once they are delivered, they do not linger in the mind. True horror seeps through our initial feelings of shock, lingers in the mind, and then reappears, in a similar form, when we are alone in the shower or in our beds. In here, it seems to be all about visual acrobatics without an understanding of psychology and what makes things scary.

Directed by Ole Bornedal, “The Possession” is filled with lights turning on and off, things being shattered like glass and cabinets, and shrill screaming. The high-pitched screaming bothered and angered me most. Are the writers, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, so cynical that a girl’s screaming is supposed to be scary? I wasn’t afraid of the material; I was afraid that the shrieking would promote premature degeneration of the hair cells in my ears. At least we are given a chance to look at the contents of the box and that it houses a thing called a dybbuk, a Hebrew word for a dislocated spirit that can either be good or evil. You can read the title and make a very accurate guess which one it is.

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