Here we have yet another film following the trend of exorcism movies in recent years, The Exorcist of course being the best, and many other movies trying to duplicate it but ultimately ending up inferior to a masterpiece.
Surprisingly, The Possession offers much more than expected and packs some pretty terrifying elements in it's 90-minute running time. After seeing Sinister recently, a movie I also enjoyed, The Possession has a similar execution in it's character development but the payoff is more memorable. The film takes elements from The Omen and The Exorcist but with an updated aesthetic and well developed characters. The film doesn't rely on cheap scares or overindulgent effects, it relies on the characters—a concept often forgot in horror movies.
The movie wastes no time by opening with an old lady being attacked by an unknown presence presumed to be connected with a strange box, which the camera lingers on with ominous whispers in the background. Than the audience meets the main characters, Clyde, (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a committed basketball coach and father who recently divorced his wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), who has a new boring love interest. They have two daughters, Katie and "Em" (Natasha Calis) who live with their mother but see their father on the weekends. When their Dad takes them to his new house and passes by a rummage sale, the younger and charming daughter Em is entranced by a box with no openings and Hebrew lettering inscribed in it (I have no idea why),which unbeknownst to her, is a Dybbuk box holding a vicious demon.
While the daughters struggle to adjust to the divorce, Em finds comfort in the box which she eventually opens and that is when the real horror begins. In the box she finds several dead moths, which make several more appearances in the film, and other random possessions like a ring. As Em wears the ring and stays attached to the box she starts hearing voices and becomes a separate character altogether (She even tells her sister she feels like a different person). Natasha Calis' performance is comparable to Linda Blair's in The Exorcist but the tone is much more subtle in this film. What Calis shows is a slow transformation into her possession with several horrifying moments including a violent attachment to the box, moths, outbursts, a medical examination and a series of deaths/injuries.
The film is based on an actual Dybbuk box sold on Ebay and written in a Los Angeles Times article and while now it's almost mandatory to label these films "true stories", the Yiddish folklore element was a different spin which added to this already unnerving script. When the main character finally seeks help in a Jewish Rabbi in the second act, it is his last plea to save the daughter once he was sure she was "possessed". The friendly Jewish Rabbi is played by reggae rap artist and Hasidic Jew Matiyahu. He is shy but volunteers to help the dad when others don't, translates the Hebrew and performs the intensely filmed final exorcism.
The special effects are minimal and the characters are realistic making the scares all the more effective. Morgan and Sedgwick don't overplay their roles, they are two adults trying to deal with their painful situation and their indifference is more authentic than most movie portrayals of broken marriage. It's remarkable how scary a movie can be when the audience actually feels for it's characters.
Overall, The Possession is one of the best horror films I've seen in a while. Evil Dead was a disappointment, Sinister was good but The Possession took me by surprise and never let go even after the credits rolled. It's not The Exorcist but it's close in it's skilled execution and performances.