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I’m not sure how much more mileage we can get out of these possession/exorcism movies. It feels like a horror sub-genre that’s been worn down, with each new film borrowing from the dozens before, using the same tricks over and over again, so the scares no longer register. There’s still a creepiness that sets in from watching another innocent woman or child being taken over by a demon (no one gives a shit about men), but, unless a new film is bringing something new to the table, it feels stale. It’s a good thing for THE POSSESSION then that director Ole Bornedal is able to use some fresh ideas and imagery to keep the film interesting, with the performances of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a father fighting for the salvation of his daughter and newcomer Natasha Callis as the affected young girl, who effectively balances her good and evil, able to connect with audiences solidly enough to make the film work beyond being another retread.

This time, rather than going over the familiar territory of possessions through Catholicism, it’s Judaism whose number gets called, with Dybbuk boxes getting the spotlight shone on them. Based on Jewish folklore (or is it?), the boxes are believed to house evil spirits or, in this case, a demon, who is released and looking for a live host to inhabit when the box is opened. It finds Emily Brenek (Callis) as the perfect target, a young girl looking for some type of direction as she tries to understand her way through her parents’ divorce. Her older sister is no help, only making matters worse by constantly reminding her of the upheaval in her family, and so when she begins to hear a voice that tells her she’s special from this cool wooden box she picked up at a garage sale, she’s open to letting it in, believing it to be friendly. Oh, children. As Em’s behavior becomes more erratic and her obsession with the box becomes increasingly worrisome, it’s up to her dad Clyde to figure out what’s causing her behavioral shift and ultimately to find out the truth about the Dybbuk.

The father-daughter relationship between Morgan and Callis is at the crux of how well THE POSSESSION plays. As her condition deteriorates, the love of her father, no matter how absent he may have been in the past as a basketball coach, strengthens, and he’ll do whatever he can, in order to release his little girl from the evil forces that have taken root within her mind, body and soul. The rest of the family – her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport, who for some reason just disappears about halfway through the movie for an extended period of time) – is really there to absorb some of the demonic materialization, be it a swarm of moths or a really cool set-up with an MRI, and not much else. However, there’s an understanding to be had for Clyde, as he may not have always been the best dad, but there’s no question how much he loves his kids. There’s no question how much he loved his ex-wife, too. In fact, he holds his entire family so near and dear to his heart that you know he’d be willing to go to the ends of the earth in order to do whatever any of them might ever need, including tracking down a Hasidic Jew exorcist (Matisyahu) when that seems to be the only hope. Morgan’s natural charm makes Clyde a likeable, but both you and he know how badly he’s fucked up the life he had, and you can’t help but want him to right the wrongs he was directly involved in creating… and now right the wrongs that he had no part in unleashing on his family.

Callis is superb as Em, taking this optimistic and naïve girl on a horrible journey towards hell right in front of us. The obvious tonal shifts that Bornedal makes to show which Emily – the good or the possessed – is with us at any given moment (dark eye shadow, dark clothes, etc.) can be laughable at times, but Callis is able to break through those giveaways that are handed to us, in order to give a much more nuanced performance of a girl who’s struggling with who she is and who she’s becoming, very much against her will. It’s sometimes easy for children to come across as creepy with their weird stares or their muted disposition, but Callis is able to do it with personality. She doesn’t rely on her childish features to set the tone… she convincingly moves between happy-go-lucky and menacing via her voice changes or frightened reactions to new visions without ever raising flags that this child can’t possibly be a threat to anyone. Callis is quickly able to establish herself as a dangerous force with her transformation, generating reactions of both sympathy and fear for both facets of her character.

Bornedal has an eye for the eerie. Without using violence or gore, he pieces together rough scene transitions, extraordinary cinematography and pretty remarkable sound design in order to set the uneasy tone THE POSSESSION needs. You feel like you always know what the next step might be, and, periodically THE POSSESSION does follow a predictable path, but Bornedal has enough guile to maneuver through this family-centric story that you can walk away feeling as if you did manage to see something new.


-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

Follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 31, 2012, 2:53 p.m. CST


    by FreeBeer

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 2:57 p.m. CST


    by Joe Dissolvo

    Now this should be the newest article. THE KIDD LIKES SOMETHING. The talkback will be enormous and crash the servers. Also, I didnt even read is other than the last paragraph, since you have a bad goddamned habit of throwing spoilers out there without a warning first.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:04 p.m. CST

    come on, seriously?

    by Mennen

    Isn't this PG-13?

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:07 p.m. CST

    I fall asleep by the second paragraph of every Kidd review

    by WWBD

    Jesus Christ, AICN, you are withering away! Can't you hire some goddamn writers with a point of view? Something interesting to say? You're no longer the go-to source for all the news. So many other sites are more exhaustive and more punctual in their coverage. So ok, you're going to have to carve out a niche for yourself being more selective with what you review and report. But for god's sake, you better have an interesting take on it!

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:10 p.m. CST

    Extraordinary sound design and remarkable sound design?

    by CountOrlok

    Ok, but how's the sound design?

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:18 p.m. CST

    What's Kidds response to Capones review jabs?

    by kindofabigdeal

    That's what we really want to know.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:25 p.m. CST

    Why is a hand coming out of a mouth scary?

    by kidicarus

    Or fingers coming on of someone's head (The Grudge), or weird shit being vomited up by a kid (The Haunting in Connecticut)? Seriously, what is creepy at all about CGI body parts coming out of people? Why is it such a trend now?

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:35 p.m. CST

    Yeah, it's always about some girl's mouth.

    by Mugato5150

    Little tattoos on their inner lip, pea soup firing out of a little girl's mouth, a mouth freakishly elongated...etc. And yes Jaws was a PG (PG with a parental warning, the pre-PG-13 equivalent of a PG-13). So was Poltergeist. Show me horror movies that were as well done and I'll watch them.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 3:43 p.m. CST

    freebeer - true and it was GREAT.

    by Mennen

    I'm thinking all these PG-13 horror movies with "an ending you'll have to see to believe" are just crap. The producers know their audience. They make it cheap. They make a profit. It's just a quality thing, that's all.

  • funny.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 4:05 p.m. CST

    I can't stand the Kidd's grammar

    by Ash Talon

    I don't mind The Kidd's opinions. However, his reviews are almost as unreadable as Harry's. Harry's reviews read like an 8 year-old having an epileptic seizure while typing up a review. The Kidd has run-on sentences and can't quite focus his ideas. I have no idea if he liked this film or not.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 4:19 p.m. CST

    I am humbled, Kidd....

    by MovieDeal

    When I started to read this, I thought that this would be another "typical" review from you. And that opinion has been mirrored in many a TB on this site. In other words, this is just another film that you hated regardless of any other merits. But, I was surprised by your articulate analysis of this film. Do I agree with it? I don't know. I haven't seen it. But, by this review, I'm willing to give it a look-see because it may be something intriguing enough to be entertaining. Thank you for providing us educated TBers something to munch on. And now, to the other TBers on this thread? Troll on! I love to laugh!

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 4:30 p.m. CST

    At the risk of sounding like a cynical asshat...

    by Darth Macchio

    Shouldn't the "Ringu" freakout be over by now? Shouldn't we no longer be getting movies with creepy little girls in bedgowns and stringy hair? It's like Scream all over again - starting a cascade of rip offs either direct or atmospherically/thematically the same, except, apparently, it's not stopping this time. And no, using exorcism as an excuse does not preclude that this is basically a slightly different facet of the seemingly never ending influx of movies either ripped off of 'ringu/the ring' or going for the exact same "creepy" vibe. So, for me, this movie seems a little bit of a repeat on 2 levels...possession of children ala Friedkin's almost perfect film or, creepy ghost/possessed/demonic little girl with long stringy (dark) hair and long dark clothes (either bedgowns or something similar) like, to me, the rather boring "The Ring" and all the myriad other Japanese/Asian ghost story movies. Hollywood can be so Pavlovian sometimes. Either way tho - interesting cast and production crew...definitely worth checking it out at some point. Love to be wrong on my cynical asshattery anyway, natch.

  • ...scared the crap out of me. I still can't believe my mother let me go.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 5:50 p.m. CST

    Anyone Have A List Of The Films Kidd Likes?

    by HateThaNet

    This one was an interesting surprise.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 5:55 p.m. CST

    Dybbuk, schmybbuk, I said, "More ham."

    by schadenfreudian

    One of these days, someone will get what I'm on about.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 6:18 p.m. CST

    Jeffrey Dean Morgan needs to be in everything

    by jimmy_009

    He's awesome. Great to see him doing more Horror. I'd watch a standalone John Winchester movie any day.

  • His reviews stink.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 7:07 p.m. CST

    No, art123guy Jaws wouldn't get a PG

    by Mugato5150

    but it would have gotten a PG-13 if the rating existed then but no R. Because there was no nudity (a little ghosting nudity but to real tits and ass) and no "eff words".

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 7:33 p.m. CST

    While I'm happy to see The Kidd like something...

    by Andrew

    I have zero interest in this movie. None. I'm tired of formulaic horror movies. Possession flicks, torture porn, the Paranormal Activity franchise = yawn. We need more horror movies like Cabin in the Woods. It can't be that hard to do, right?

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 8:09 p.m. CST

    based on a true story

    by theBigE

    Anyone hear the true story? Nothing like this, other than there was a possessed Dybbuk box. EW magazine did a nice story on it, and I caught the story on SyFy's Paranormal Witness the other night. No little girls anywhere in the true story, it was adult men that were affected.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 8:56 p.m. CST

    I'm curious about this one. Looks truly creepy.

    by Quake II

    Since a talkbacker above me just brought it up, am I the only one on this site that thought Cabin In The Woods was terrible? I saw it at the cheap seats due to the enthusiastic reviews from this site and found it to be a silly horror film like Night Of The Creeps or Waxwork (both of those were better films btw). So there are hundreds of awesome monster scenarios to choose from and we (the audience) have to watch ZOMBIES? Tired.

  • Aug. 31, 2012, 11:53 p.m. CST

    This is a really good horror film

    by BigTuna

    I was surprised how it grabbed me right away and I never lost interest. New story? Hardly. But the very good acting and direction puts in above most possession films we've seen. A very creep movie.

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 12:59 a.m. CST

    OK so let me get this straight


    This Infamous Billy the Kidd guy bursts on the scene with frequent articles here and immediately people start bashing him. Just some friendly hazing, right? Then a pattern emerges, where he gives 1 movie a passing grade and then mercilessly bashes 9 movies in a row. So now it's become even more inhospitable for him here. Although it's ironic that Harry gets bashed for LOVING ALL movies except Christopher Nolan films. So anyways, The Kidd probably noticed a large number of talkbackers criticizing his overly cynical viewpoints. So what, right? Who cares what we have to say in the little talkback? Fuck them. But wait, now I find this review very suspicious. Because this movie, which I doubt anyone is interested in watching, we've seen a thousand of these already, they're all the same, it got 34% at Rottentomatoes. Hollywood keeps green-lighting these shitty movies because there's surprisingly a paying audience for them and they're super low-budget. And the fucking INfamous Billy the Kidd gave this piece of shit a 5 star rating? Oh really? You really liked it, eh Kidd?

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 7:58 a.m. CST

    I saw JAWS with my dad in 1975, when I was SIX!

    by workshed

    Sure, it scared the crap out of me, but it scared my dad more. He jumped out of his seat when Ben Gardner's head pops out and it's something I've never forgotten. It was an 'A'-rated film in the UK (supposedly '7 or over with an accompanying adult') and I'm fecking glad my dad took me to The Majestic every week because (along with my grandma letting me stay up to watch the horror-double-bill on tv from the age of three) it made me the movie lover I am today (especially of the horror genre). THE KID LIKES A MOVIE AT LAST - HUZZAH!

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 3:14 p.m. CST


    by corplhicks

    Dumb comment. It's a possession story with at least a modicum of originality. That is has a background loosely in Jewish mysticism is interesting and that's it. You obviously an ignorant redneck

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 4:19 p.m. CST

    saw it...predictable

    by kingoflight

    Not bad just seen it all before.

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 5:39 p.m. CST

    Not the kidds fault that he only seems to dig non-shite movies but...

    by The_All_Dead

    I'm not seeing this cuz I tune out whenever I see or hear "Based on a True Story" in relation to horror movies.

  • Sept. 1, 2012, 8:25 p.m. CST

    Just got back from seeing it...Yawn..

    by CrankyMaddog

  • Sept. 2, 2012, 1:04 a.m. CST

    ^ look out people, internet toughguy in the house

    by Joe Damiani

  • Sept. 2, 2012, 8:04 a.m. CST

    the little girl on the swing looks like Kat Dennings

    by Balkin Flabgurter

    Still love them double D Roni's in Thor keep it up!

  • Sept. 2, 2012, 5:08 p.m. CST

    Glad to see this movie doing well

    by Extr3m1st

    Number one this weekend..the comedian must be proud..

  • Sept. 2, 2012, 5:24 p.m. CST


    by Ld

  • Sept. 3, 2012, 9:44 p.m. CST

    Agree with the Kidd

    by jackofhearts29

    Just saw it, it's not a great movie, but it's got an interesting style and look. You know exactly what's going to happen, but it doesn't really matter because it's more about the mood and the acting than the scares. And the demon-girl did a great acting job. If you saw the trailer, unfortunately, you saw every interesting shot in the film already.

  • Sept. 4, 2012, 2:16 p.m. CST

    So rent it?

    by Andrew Coleman

    Looks pretty generic. I did like the religion switch though. Seeing the part where the demon tosses the Torah aside is hard core. Still it just doesn't seem to scream out a theater watch for me. Probably a rental.