‘The Possession’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 26th, 2014 at 6:44 pm,

Natasha Calis Emily Possession The Possession Review

In the end, it’s hard to recommend the film to the usual horror crowd, given that many will have seen a lot of The Possession played out in countless other possessed child movie entries.

For mainstream movie fans The Possession producer, Sam Raimi, is best known for helming Toby Maguire’s blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy but, for horror movie lovers, the filmmaker is also responsible for directing fan-favorites like Army of Darkness, the Evil Dead films, and most recently Drag Me to Hell. While the in-demand director can’t personally oversee every scary movie project that crosses his desk, he’s assisted in bringing several other fan-favorite horror properties to the big screen – producing the American Grudge series as well as the upcoming Poltergeist remake.

For The Possession, Raimi handed over the director’s chair to Danish filmmaker, Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) – with a cast that includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), as well as reggae fusion recording artist, Matisyahu. Has Bornedal, who is mostly unknown to American audiences, managed to take enough pages out of Raimi’s playbook in order to present audiences with a terrifying new take on the “possessed young person” horror sub-genre?

Unfortunately, despite a solid performance from Morgan and several genuinely creepy moments, The Possession fails to differentiate itself from standard exorcism stories and movie experiences – even if it is “Based on True Events.” While the “Box” element of the plot definitely adds mystery and intrigue to the proceedings, many of the film’s twists, turns, and scares are easily predictable (not to mention outright spoiled in the trailer) despite being couched in an above average core premise. Unlike the often tongue-in-cheek approach of some Raimi-produced horror movies, The Possession takes itself very seriously and moviegoers looking for a unique or unrelenting scare fest will likely be underwhelmed. However, compelling leading actors and mostly engaging characters elevate the The Possession above some of its exorcism movie contemporaries – resulting in a competent but unremarkable horror drama hybrid.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan Possession The Possession Review

Jeffrey Dean Morgan in ‘The Possession’

As mentioned, The Possession story is pretty basic fare: following a protracted separation (and eventual divorce) between Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Sedgwick), daughters Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) live with their mother and spend time with their father during certain weekends. On one of their visits, Em, Hannah, and Clyde visit a neighborhood yard sale – where the youngest Brenek daughter is quickly drawn to a mysterious box engraved with Hebrew inscriptions. However, when the box is finally opened, Em begins to exhibit uncharacteristically strange as well as increasingly violent behaviors. As his daughter grows more and more disconnected (not to mention dangerous), Clyde enlists Rabbi Tzadok (Matisyahu) to help him trace the origins of the malevolent box. Of course, it’s never quite that simple, right?

The dynamics between Clyde and his daughters succeed in adding a grounded, and relatable, layer of family drama onto what would otherwise be a very standard exorcism tale. The film, and horror scares, are much more subdued than similar offerings – relying heavily on strong performances from Morgan and Calis to relay Em’s ongoing transformation. Sedgwick’s Stephanie, as well as the over-arching divorce plot line, isn’t nearly as compelling as the Clyde and Em interactions but, for the most part, they work to help make Morgan’s character more endearing – given that he’s at first framed as a kind but ultimately self-absorbed and absent father.

Bornedal owes a lot to Morgan – considering the actor approaches his Possession role as if he were in an indie Oscar-bait flick. Clyde is easily one of the most endearing horror protagonists in recent memory – largely because Morgan commits to scenes that would otherwise be melodramatic with a subtlety and charm that is rarely found in the genre. The delicate affection between Em and Clyde, juxtaposed against the more complicated relationship of Clyde and teenager Hannah, offers an engrossing foundation for things to go horribly wrong.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan Natasha Cali Kyra Sedgwick Possession The Possession Review

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matisyahu, Natasha Cali, and Kyra Sedgwick in ‘The Possession’

Similarly, Calis is captivating as she carries Em from a sweet and charming kid who spouts quips about the benefits of vegetarianism to a very creepy and hollowed out vessel for evil incarnate. There’s never a moment where Calis comes across as a young actress playing a sinister character – even when the film pushes family drama to the side in favor of upping the horror ante. Whether playing Em lucid and aware or  “possessed,” as soon as the box is opened, Calis delivers a smart balance that keeps the young girl’s fear and confusion consistently at the forefront – which is far more horrifying to watch than many of the film’s scripted scares.

In spite of those nuanced offerings from the leads, The Possession presents a pretty thin horror experience. There are jump scares, tense and violent encounters, as well as plenty of creepy moments but there’s also very little that audiences will not have seen before in one film or another. Most of the actual “kills” are enacted on side characters with thin connections to the Brenek family – little more than meat to keep tension up while transforming Em and exploring the box mystery. As a result, without real emotional investment in potential victims, viewers are mostly just watching a series of violent things play out, not fully engaged in the would-be horror, since there’s no emotional connection to fulfill. That said, once the film reaches the third act, and the truth about the box and Em come full circle, there’s a fleeting opportunity where enough pieces fall into place and a few genuinely interesting horror moments are provided. Unfortunately, by that point, many moviegoers may feel as though The Possession hit its stride far too late.

A pair of sharp performances as well as an intriguing core premise help elevate The Possession above standard exorcism offerings and moviegoers who are interested in a creepy drama movie punctuated by a number of disturbing horror moments might find something worthwhile in The Possession. However, the film is missing the fun of prior Raimi-produced efforts and, as a more serious film, lacks both unique scares as well as interesting twists. In the end, it’s hard to recommend the film to the usual horror crowd, given that many will have seen a lot of The Possession played out in countless other “possessed child” movie entries but, for those who just want a spooky theater trip (or are less familiar with the tropes of the genre), Bornedal’s film might be worthy of your soul of a watch.

If you’re still on the fence about The Possession, check out the trailer below:


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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Possession is Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. And why a one star for this film?

    • Not sure what you mean. It’s 2/5.

  2. well most voted 1

    • Oh! Sorry, wasn’t sure what you were referring to at first. I’d guess that’ll change once people see the movie – it’s usually lopsided at first by votes from people who haven’t seen it.

  3. Good review ben. Gonna see this tonight and then lawless Sunday. I just can never leave possession movies alone. Gotta be better than the devil inside, no?

    • Absolutely.

  4. I haven’t been involved with Screenrant long, but from my observation, I’ve noticed that Ben Kendrick tends to participate more in the comments of his articles. Nothing against the other writers (I think they’re brilliant), it’s just that that fact tends to draw me more to his articles. Well done Ben.

    That said, this movie looks like it would appeal to me.

    • Well, until someone says something mean – then I curl up in a ball and hide in a corner. Kidding. Glad it’s helpful. I just try, especially on reviews and the podcast, to keep an eye on things in case something wasn’t clear or people have questions.

      Plus, it’s fun for me to have a dialogue with our awesome readers!

      If you go see The Possession, let us know what you think!

  5. i´m very dissapointed that they can´t release one good horror movie in the last months till now. – the appir.- flop, – v.h.s-(one or two good storys)flop, -the tall man- flop. i hope that carrie and evil dead turn gritty and creepy as hell. i hope that the -world war z- movie has learned from – the walking dead- how the fans want to see our rotting friends. i haven´t read the book to describe my true thoughts,but i´ve heard it´s a story in documentary style where a reporter interviews survivors from the zombiecalypse. some bloody backflashes from the survivors would be cool.

  6. Really enjoyed the show… not really a horror movie, more of a thriller with “haunting” moments. Great performance by JD Morgan and an incredible performance by young Calis… she really carries the show with her dual characters and believable love for her day (JDM). The rest of the people in the theater I attended seemed to truly enjoy the show as well.

  7. … should read “believable love for her Dad (JDM).”

    • Yes!!!

  8. This is pretty disappointing but not entirely surprising. I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time because I can’t ignore excorcism movies for some reason, they always spark my intrigue, and this looked good. So, Ben I’m getting that I should wait for this on DVD/Netflix and save my money?

      • Yeah, they are all the same now. I decided that I’m watching it tomorrow! And The Exorcist hasn’t been equaled because it was one of the first of it’s kind!

  9. Being a fan of “THE EXORCIST”, I was a little skeptical at first because most of “EXORCISM” films made in the past were “awful”!! This film, however, looks promising. I will check it out next week. I like the trailer! The film looks very entertaining and scary!! I guess not everyone likes this genre of films!!

  10. I enjoyed this movie. I agree with a lot of what you said Ben but I think JDM and the main girl’s performances really drew me into the film. I quite like watching JDM on screen and I feel he elevated this movie quite a bit. I also thought there were some effective scares at the end i.e. SPOILERS the strobe effect with the demon crawling on the floor. I am a sucker for horror flicks though…especially possession movies.

    • the end scenes with the “exorcism” and the crawling demon were the BEST in the movie. Very well done I thought

  11. I really liked it… it was good acting by em and her dad in the movie

    • Music = A+

      All the “bones” of a good horror movie were there except for the most important parts: story and scares.

  12. Give this a 3/5. Strong performances from Jeffery Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis. Best shocks were in the trailer though they still make an impression. And much better than ‘The Unborn’, a comparison which should be familiar who recalls that movie. Still holding out for VHS, Sinister and PA4 to bring something great to the table of this year’s horror movies.

  13. What happened in the first few minutes of this film? I walked in when an old woman was being beat up by “the box”, but I heard there was something before that scene.

  14. I just returned from seeing the film and I thought it was very good!! The “ending” catches you completely off guard!! For an “exorcism” film (compared to the other recent films in the genre), I think it worth viewing!! The music was creepy and there was some good scenes in it to make you jump!! I don’t want to give anything away in respect to others who have not seen the film. My advice – go see it!!

  15. Polish demon who can not speak polish properly :)) and that’s why all polish audience laughed instead of being really scared… We have a grammar in Poland too :)Hard to believe that the writer or director ( whatever )have not perfected such details…

  16. Long story short. SUCKED! 1001 reasons why. You’ll still waste your time to watch this crap. Enjoy!