One of the timeless classics of the genre
, 21 Sep 2012
Since the Exorcist burst onto cinema screens in 1973, horror has had something of an obsession with demonic possession as a storyline. Prior to last nights excursion to see The Possession, the last encounter Id had with the trope was in The Devil Inside. It was not a good one, so needless to say I didnt go into The Possession with particularly high hopes.
I was, I am pleased to say, quite wrong.
The Possession deviates from the standard Christian mythos to take a wander down Jewish demonology. Basketball coach Clyde Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) buys his daughter Emily (Natasha Calis) a wooden box carved in Hebrew and with no apparent opening a demon-filled Dybbuk box. She finds a way of opening it, and predictable demonic hijinks ensue.
The core of the story is the relationship between Clyde and Emily, and whilst this sounds like a predictable and overused mechanism, its done real justice by Morgan and Calis. Part of me railed against the cliché of the separated parents, but Morgan gives a genuine performance as the conflicted father who cares deeply about his children.
And I cant sing Calis praises highly enough. Child actresses in horror films are usually a cavalcade of embarrassing and unrealistic, but she managed to pull off genuine-looking fear and realism in her reactions. One to watch, Id say.
Towards the beginning I was starting to worry about its approach to the horror aspect. It seemed to be falling into the trap of horror by volume, wherein it tries to make the audience jump by sudden loud spikes in the soundtrack. This is one of those bad habits which kills good horror films, turning them into the equivalent of someone jumping out and shouting boo.
Thankfully, it changed tack pretty quickly, and went for subtlety instead. The father-daughter relationship was built up, along with the sense of isolation felt by each as the plot progressed. The inclusion of Jewish culture and mythology lent it a sense of otherness comparable (Im guessing) to that which the catholic rituals of The Exorcist enjoyed in the 70s.
Another thing which The Possession got right was the demon. Ive lost count of the number of horror films Ive seen, where the carefully constructed atmosphere is ruined in a matter of moments, by a sloppy, over-exposed reveal of the monster (yes, Im looking at you Insideous). Thankfully, those at the helm here did better, confining it to a dramatic and sinister few shots, and very creative use of a strobe effect.
Bad horror films are two a penny. They occupy a special place in the pantheon of cinema, and arent without their own entertainment value. But The Possession belongs to a different school; those horror films which are subtle, moving and well-made. These are the ones which will stay with you after they finish, and still chill you many rewatches later. Whilst I cant yet attest to the latter, The Possession well meets the former, and I really believe that it deserves a place as one of the timeless classics of the genre.
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