The Possession Review

The Possession has already received a reputation in the popular press as the Jewish version of the horror classic, The Exorcist. It certainly shares some similarities with that seminal film, as both revolve around the possession of a young girl, whose secular parents don’t really understand what is happening at first, forced to eventually bring in religious authorities to deal with the problem. The key difference between them of course being which audience each movie is trying to entertain with its tale of demonic possession.

The Possession is a PG-13 film squarely aimed at the tastes of tweens and teenage females, carefully crafted for emotional issues that would best resonate with them. It’s solidly crafted in the style of modern horror movies, if lacking that edge which might interest older audiences. The director even laments that one scene was scarier in his first cut of the film, but had to tone it down to obtain the PG-13 rating. The FX are impressive but don’t get brought out to full effect until the very end of the film.

The story is purportedly based on true events, though Hollywood has proven so callous with that term as to render it meaningless. Based on concepts within Jewish folklore, there is something called a “Dibbuk Box.” A box supposedly used to hold spirits, it comes into the possession of a typical family. In this case, the box holds a very evil spirit which hopes to entrap a young girl. An absentee father by the name of Clyde, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, takes his two young daughters to a yard sale on their weekly visit for the weekend. For under fifty bucks he buys his ten-year-old daughter, Emily (Natasha Calis), an old-looking box with strange carvings. Almost immediately weird things start happening around her and there is a noticeable change in her personality as she becomes obsessed with the vintage box. Something is wrong when your daughter starts sleeping in her bed with a creepy wooden box.

The movie is about the messy emotional dynamics of a recently divorced couple sharing their children, as much as it is about demonic possession. Scares are few and far between in the movie’s first act, as the action centers more around the conflict between Clyde and his ex-wife, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). It does help provide more of an emotional punch to the demonic festivities of the second half with the family’s turbulent background, but at times some will wonder if they are watching a movie made for the Lifetime channel with its heavy focus on the state of relationships between a parent and their child after a messy divorce.

Aside from the Jewish nature of the possession, The Possession doesn’t bring much new to the horror genre. But the acting and direction are all a cut above the standard fare coming out of Hollywood these days, which enables The Possession to be more entertaining than it rightfully should with its fairly predictable storyline. A great movie for its target audience and competent genre fodder for older viewers.

Movie ★★★★☆

When moths go wild... tonight on TLC @ 26:51

The Possession looks positively decent on Blu-ray despite one main caveat. Lionsgate has given the 92-minute film a robust AVC video encode, which averages 32.82 Mbps on a BD-50. Framed in a 2:35:1 widescreen presentation at a resolution of 1080P, the stylish composition of the cinematography by Dan Laustsen is quite good for a mid-level horror film. Compression is impeccable and replicates the film’s transfer without a hint of degradation.

Shot using the Super 35 film format, The Possession displays excellent detail in its picture quality with a hint of grain and noise in the darker scenes. Facial close-ups manifest extraordinary levels of high-frequency content, down to the pores and razor stubble of Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Like so many other modern horror movies, the color palette has been drained of the brighter primary colors. That creates slightly bleached flesh-tones and subdued colors dominating the film.

Sharpness and dimensionality consistently outperform the average new theatrical release on Blu-ray, rarely allowing the picture to lose focus or definition. The contrast is nearly perfect, especially in exterior shots, though a few scenes display poor shadow delineation and a touch of black crush. Clyde’s jacket becomes a wall of impenetrable black in one scene, when the daughters get scared about the possibility of an intruder in their house.

The one problem of real consequence is the unfortunate presence of visible ringing to the transfer. The BD’s transfer was likely taken straight from the film’s digital intermediate, but somewhere in the chain sharpening has been added, which leads to prominent ringing in certain scenes. It is not consistently intrusive, but videophiles will have a problem with some scenes. On the other hand, considering the visible degree of fine detail, the transfer has not been filtered to any noteworthy level.

Video ★★★★☆

The Possession comes alive with a finely crafted 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. It’s an atmospheric mix which takes full advantage of the surround channels to present a soundstage that swirls around the listener, particularly when the demonic spirit makes its presence known. A swarm of moths envelope the soundfield in one early scene, enhancing what we see on screen as the young daughter gets increasingly taken over by the evil entity. Fidelity is perfect in its rendition of dialog and the instrumental score, which rarely goes beyond the typical clichés of scary music. It’s a mid-budget Hollywood production that goes above the call of duty to deliver thrills through sound, delivering bass when the situation calls for it and utter silence in the quieter moments.

One problem to the soundtrack is how low in volume the voice of the evil spirit is placed in the mix. The lossless soundtrack has huge dynamic range and the creature’s initial whisperings are tough to hear in spots. On a more subjective note, the female-sounding voice for the entity is not as frightening as one might expect. It does not match the vocal intimidation of The Exorcist or other noted demonic voices in film.

Lionsgate has also provided a 5.1 Spanish dub in Dolby Digital. English and Spanish subtitles are offered, alongside English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Audio ★★★★★

A number of special features have been included for The Possession, though there are indications from the director that deleted scenes existed which did not make this edition. First pressings will include a cardboard slipcover.

Audio Commentary with director Ole Bornedal – Hailing from Denmark, Bornedal delivers his commentary in heavily-accented English. This is one of the stranger director commentaries, particularly for a horror movie. He’s less interested in sharing anecdotes from the production than explaining his motivations for certain cinematic decisions within the film. We do learn tidbits like the entire house in the movie was furnished by IKEA. I don’t know if something got lost in translation, but the stilted delivery almost sounds like a put-on at times, as if Bornedal was a comedian pretending to be a pretentious European artist.

Audio Commentary Writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White – A more traditional commentary that fills in a great deal of background material about the movie’s story, from its writers. If you only can listen to one commentary on this disc, this one would be it. The most interesting anecdote is how they pitched the idea to Sam Raimi and the other producers, beating out several other groups of writers.

“The Real History Of The Dibbuk Box” Featurette (13:19 in 1080P) – A very sober look at the actual owners of the supposedly cursed box, which was the basis for the events in The Possession. Three of its most recent owners are interviewed, as they detail their experiences with the box. Apparently one can purchase cursed demon boxes off of eBay, like everything else today. I wonder what category they would be listed under?

Theatrical Trailer (2:31 in 1080P)

Various Trailers, all in 1080P: Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Last Exorcism, The Haunting In Connecticut, Fear.Net, EPIX

iTunes + Ultraviolet Digital Copy

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.