Friday, August 31, 2012

The Possession (Movie Review)

In The Possession, recently divorced Clyde is attempting to build a new life over the weekends with his teenage daughters. When they stop at a yard sale, his youngest daughter, Emily, purchases an old wooden box with Hebrew characters etched on the outside.

Soon the box gains a treasured place in her room, her schoolbag, and every moment of her life. Emily's behavior becomes more and more strange and violent. When coupled with the eerie events that are becoming increasingly frequent around Emily, Clyde realizes he is facing a supernatural evil intent on destroying his daughter, that he is unprepared to confront.

The Possession is not gory. It doesn't thrive on jump scares. It also doesn't have a central "creature" providing thrills. Instead, it falls into what I would describe as the "creep-scare" genre, which includes movies like The Ring, The Grudge and Paranormal Activity. In fact it owes quite a bit to these movies, despite doing a few new things.

Performances are pretty good, though a little inconsistent, ranging from engaging and realistic to "actors making choices". Even Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Clyde) is not immune to this, although he still anchors the movie very well and is easy to sympathize with. I do have to give high praise to Natasha Calis, who played Emily. Keep that name in your memory banks. I'm betting she'll be a big star within 5-10 more years.

The visual effects are well done except when they overstep their bounds and become too ambitious. In these moments, the tell-tale signs of CGI took me out of the movie, wishing they had used make-up effects instead.

There are several very creepy visuals that genre fans will enjoy and even get some tingles from. But this movie is still likely to be forgotten not long after viewing. Why?

I believe that the "creep-scare" genre succeeds largely on the merits of its twisted visuals. The first time I saw "The Ring" or "In The Mouth Of Madness", I walked away with unsettling images burned into my mind that haunted me for a long time. These images worked because I'd never seen anything like them before.

The Possession doesn't exactly rip off images already used in older films, but it still does little more than create "variations on a theme". They didn't quite dig deep enough into the twisted hidden corners of the mind to bring up new and truly bizarre images to share.

One variant I enjoyed was the use of Jewish folklore as a backdrop for the supernatural myths of the movie, rather than the same old Roman Catholic backdrop. Something I found interesting, however, was how little this change affected the plot, and how similar the battle between "religious folks" and demons was in this movie, compared to any other exorcism movie.

Once again, despite the religious overtones, it never quite seems to be God who is defeating evil, but people. (Hmm. On second thought, maybe what seemed to be God's lack of involvement explains the final frames of the movie...) Rather than an obvious, prayerful appeal to God to intervene, the Rabbi (at least I think he was a Rabbi) in conflict with the demon uses a series of objects, ingredients and personal items collected from the main characters, so their strengths will enhance the spell. Ahem! I mean "exorcism"...

In these movies, most of the time it seems you could change the dressing on these religious guys and just as easily make them into spell-casting wizards, using a collection of components and reading words from a mystic tome to get the job done. God doesn't seem to be very involved.

If anything, the Rabbis who DO bring God into the equation present his involvement as much more passive. These older, more seasoned Rabbis advise Clyde to "leave it to the will of God". Clyde angrily asks them if it were their child, would they "leave it to the will of God".

If anything, our heroes enter the final confrontation relying more on their own strength and determination than the help of God.

The Possession is one I'd recommend as a $1 rental, in which case I don't think it will disappoint. But in the meantime, you'd be better off not spending more money on a well-made but forgettable film like this one.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

What do these scores mean?

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