Initially there seems much to praise in The Possession – director Ole Bornedal’s competent excursion into child-in-peril territory. On closer inspection however the film – reminiscent of the daddy of all devil films, The Exorcist (1973) – starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick and the outstanding Natasha Calis, falls flat because, beneath the gloss, it’s all been seen before.
Em (Calis) gets her father Clyde (Dean Morgan) to buy her an antique box she finds at a yard sale. Clyde and his ex-wife Stephanie (Sedgwick) soon discover however, that the box is home to an ancient demon, which is determined to be resurrected through Em, to the cost of the family and all they hold dear.
On the face of it this film works, forgoing the temptation to pile on gore which, considering its producer is the legendary master of schlock Sam Raimi, could have been much worse. Instead it attempts to invoke a feeling of unease through characterisation (a refreshing approach for this type of film), periodically interspersed with surprisingly realistic shock effects. One scene, involving Em whilst she is preparing for bed one night, is particularly effective – if the thought of sticking your fingers down your throat is enough to make you gag then you ought to push the fast forward button at this point. Time is given to the characters to flesh them out, serving to make you feel for the family and the terrifying situation they find themselves in.
Ultimately though the film belongs to Calis, the precociously talented child actress whose performance here as the the young girl whose innocence is defiled by the demon gives Linda Blair’s Megan from The Exorcist, a run for her money.
The Possession looks stunning, set amidst the leafy environs of nameless, middle class America. Everything from the ‘Good Housekeeping’ interior of Stephanie’s home, to the surrounding manicured lawns and pristine suburban streets, create the perfect backdrop for the story to play out against, only serving to heighten the horrors of the ancient evil when it unleashes its full wrath.
However look deeper and there isn’t much that breaks new ground. The basic plot, revolving around a family’s attempts to cope with an evil which they have inadvertently woken, is as old as the devil himself. There are also a few loose ends left untied – namely the demise or otherwise of Stephanie’s insipid yet harmless new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show) – which irritate, though they’re soon forgotten as you are caught up in the full-on climax.
The Possession may not push the boundaries of modern horror, but it is nonetheless a fun chiller which effectively invokes the spirit of past demon possession classics.