I’ve lost count of how many horror movies I’ve seen that have tried, unsuccessfully, to imitate director William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” None of them can compare, but “The Possession” comes closer in terms of quality than any other film I’ve watched in recent years. Surprising, since it’s barely ninety minutes long and has a PG-13 rating. After a visually shocking opening scene, director Ole Bornedal takes a more subtle approach, gradually building suspense and a meticulous sense of dread as the movie unfolds – proving you don’t have to include lots of CGI or bloody gore (or a jerky “Blair Witch” camera style) in order to make a story scary. Luckily for the director and the viewers, talented actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick have leading roles, and newcomer Natasha Calis is quite impressive as their possessed daughter.
Calis plays Emily, a young girl upset by the divorce of her parents, Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie (Sedgwick). Clyde tries to compensate for the separation by spoiling both his daughters during their weekend visits with him. One day he’s talked into stopping at a yard sale, and gives in when Em asks him to buy her a wooden box she can’t seem to open. Bad move. Turns out it’s a “Dybbuk Box.” But the family knows nothing about Jewish folklore, and not long after Em figures out how to open the box she is influenced by the evil spirit living inside. She begins talking to a lady who isn’t there, and soon displays signs of rage and physical abuse. Stephanie blames Clyde at first, but then (in my favorite spooky scene) she comes to realize that her daughter’s problems stem from the supernatural.
Naturally, an exorcism is the only solution – by a rabbi instead of a Catholic priest. Even with some good special effects, this Jewish exorcism isn’t nearly as intense or horrifying as the William Peter Blatty version, and the film’s ending is pretty typical. (One comes to expect this “open-endedness,” since most movie makers hope for a sequel.) Despite this, for a horror flick dealing with a tired trope, it has a classy, creepy feel to it that makes it worth viewing. “The Possession” gets three out of five “goblins” from me.