As with many horror movies, Ole Bornedal’s The Possession opens with the statement ‘Based on a True Story’. But for once it seems that the horrors of the cursed box containing a spirit which invades a young girl, pushing the family into fear and disturbing distress is actually ripped from reality.
This supernatural tale starts strangely – on EBay of all places – where the listing of what was described as a “haunted Jewish wine cabinet box” sparked a series of investigations into its history and spiralled into the story of the winning bidder encountering a number of unexplainable events, bad health and extremely bad luck resulting in him losing his business.
So what is the box exactly?
The answer is a Dybbuk Box, a container used to trap an evil spirit from ancient Jewish folklore and prevent it harming innocent people. People that it may target if opened, causing such strange health problems (reported by the box’s owners) as hives, coughing up blood, welts all over, all in addition to horrific nightmares, strange putrid smells and supernatural occurrences.
Whether the alleged ‘true story’ is true or simply superstition and paranoia, it makes for a great framework for a horror film. And given the current obsession with the paranormal that populates recent horror cinema, Bornedal’s film takes elements from the genre delivering a well made and unsettling movie.
As the divorced father desperate to help his little girl overcome the demon that increasingly devours her physically and mentally, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a likable everyman character serving as the audiences eyes and ears to the spooky goings on as they develop.
Natasha Calis does a great job as Em, the young subject of the possession, in what is a difficult part balancing between victim and villain, inciting both our sympathy and our fear in equal measures.
The family drama which is played out along with the paranormal plot works well and this bolstered up by some excellent set pieces, classy effects and some genuinely disturbing ideas. These are all employed to show the demon’s invasion upon the child and make sure that the horror is never too far away, escalating at the end in a great climax.
Bornedal knows horror, something he proved with the undervalued Nightwatch which delivered spine tingling frights in both its original and remake incarnations.
Even though it seems that the possession and exorcism genre has been done to death and brought back again, Bornedal attempts to innovate with original settings and scares, plus the added element in the story of the rich and intriguing Jewish religion and traditions which help it on.
Better than most possession movies of recent years, The Possession may not cast The Exorcist from its satanic thrown as king of the possession genre. However as a mainstream Hollywood horror, it more than lives up to expectations.