It seems like every horror movie these days is "based on a true story." In our cynical age, it's unlikely anyone is walking into "The Possession" thinking that everything on screen really happened. And despite a solidly chill-inducing first hour, its absurd and goofy final act will ensure it.
"Watchmen"'s Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Clyde, a successful small-town college basketball coach. Unfortunately, his family life is less of a slam-dunk. He's been divorced from his wife ("The Closer"'s Kyra Sedgwick) for a year, putting a strain on his relationship with his two little girls.
During a rare happy weekend with his daughters, however, the youngest, Emily (Natasha Calis), finds a mysterious wooden box at a yard sale. The girl starts behaving unnervingly different, becoming distant and attacking anyone who attempts to come between her and her treasured box.
As her symptoms escalate and the body count begins to rise, Clyde discovers the box may be the home of a dibbuk, a vengeful spirit hoping to enter the land of the living again. The only hope for his daughter may be an exorcism, performed by a young Jewish priest played by popular Jewish musician Matisyahu (pre-shaved beard and hair).
The first two acts of "The Possession" aren't without faults. Much of the character development revels in clichés – is there any doubt work-obsessed Clyde won't make his oldest daughter's much-anticipated dance performance? – and Danish director Ole Bornedal has a peculiar habit of quick cutting to black in the middle of a scary scene, a technique that subtracts more than it adds.
What Bornedal does exceptionally well, with the help of his screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, is escalate the chill-inducing tension. Moths start infesting the house (far more unnerving than "The Apparition"'s mold and knotted clothes), and Emily's behavior grows more unpredictable as the possession gets stronger. She stabs her dad in the hand but is immediately apologetic afterwards as though she doesn't even know how it happened.
For the most part, the film avoids the typical exorcism movie scare tactics. The demon voices are held in check, and strange body contortions aren't to be found. Instead, the fear is based on slowly becoming someone you're not.
The horror builds quite nicely until "The Possession"'s inevitable exorcism moves toward overblown theatrics, involving a seemingly abandoned hospital, a far-too-accessible morgue and a whole bunch of yelling. It gets even more preposterous when the thing possessing Emily turns out to be an actual creature inside of her, trying to claw its way out.
There's actually the basis for a Cronenberg-esque horror film about the fear of the human body and the invasion of the most private property a person can have. The problem, however, is the irritating and overused "based on a true story" gimmick that the film saddles itself with. It isn't just a marketing tactic either; the movie begins with a title screen noting that it's based on a true story that happened over the course of 29 days.
By stating the film is based on a real story, the movie places parameters around itself. The audience expects horror within the bounds of reality, and anything that goes too far seems even more preposterous as a result. The last act of "The Possession" may try to orchestrate a lot of excitement and terror with flickering lights, computer-created demons and bellowing chants, but it's so outside the realm of possibility, the audience wonders why they were ever scared in the first place.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Aug. 31, 2015
The former Goldmann's Department Store is in the process of becoming the new home to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. As a part of the renovation process, however, its iconic sign was taken down. After spending some time for sale in the construction lot, the popular Milwaukee and Mitchell Street landmark has found a new home. But, not in Milwaukee.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Growing up, the Bay View-based toy maker Peggy Brown has plenty of memories of the classic board game Operation - and her family didn't even own it. Decades later, Brown - along with her friend and fellow toy maker Tim Walsh - are trying to give something back to the man whose legendarily buzz-worthy game gave them so many fun times and fond memories over the years with the documentary "Buzz Heard 'Round the World."
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Considering its reputation as Milwaukee's haunted bar, Shaker's Cigar Bar, located at 422 S. 2nd St., certainly knows a thing or two about old stories coming to life. After giving plenty of historical tours through the years and guiding eager guests to some of the city's ghosts, bar owner Bob Weiss and marketing director Amanda Morden are hoping they've found a new way to resurrect some of Milwaukee's old tales of yore: Hangman Radio.
Published Aug. 26, 2015
Now, with their Internet comedy series "Shangri-L.A.," Milwaukee-grown filmmakers Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer ("Billy Club," "Pester") are the latest to go in search of the worldly utopia. Well, kind of, as the search for dreams brings them to the very real city of Los Angeles - and to Kickstarter to help finish the 11 episode production.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
Yes, the Packers will probably be just fine without Jordy Nelson, who's done for the year with a significant right knee injury. But sometimes, you just need to grieve ... with a collection of Dubsmashes from Olivia Munn and Aaron Rodgers from before the injury that eerily fit this time of great sadness.
Published Aug. 23, 2015
If you're planning on riffing off of one of Hollywood's greatest director's greatest movies, you better know what you're doing. Luckily, the man behind "Phoenix" is the extremely talented German director Christian Petzold, who smartly takes a touch of Hitchcock and twists it into an impressive project all of his own, a brilliantly crafted modern post-war noir carefully cloaked in mystery that slowly but satisfyingly burns to a quiet fireworks display of a finale.
Published Aug. 22, 2015
The jazzy retro style of Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is slinky fun, but enjoy it while you can because, like a toddler, if you take your eyes off it for a second to grab your drink or glance at your watch or merely blink, it is gone, a whooshing little breeze where it once used to be on screen and in your mind. The projector might as well be one of those neuralizers from "Men in Black."
Published Aug. 19, 2015
Dieter Sturm may not be a household name, but for about 30 years, his work has been all over some of your favorite Hollywood movies. Yes, fitting for a Wisconsinite, Sturm's business is snow, and when a Hollywood production needs to call in anything from a flurry to a blizzard, Sturm and his Lake Geneva-based company Sturm Special Effects bring the storm.
Published Aug. 18, 2015
The first time Indianapolis native and "Big Lebowski" superfan Tom Esterline, Jr. saw the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic, well, he fell asleep. But then he watched it again. And again. And again and again and so on until he became a superfan - an Achiever - decked in his finest Pendleton sweater and attending as many Lebowski Fests as possible - the next one located right here in Milwaukee this weekend at Cathedral Square Park.
Published Aug. 18, 2015
The combination of bagpipes and didgeridoo is an almost impossibly rare mix - one that belongs almost exclusively to Brother. Unfortunately, the band's upcoming return to River Rhythms on Wednesday night will likely be the final one of its kind, as lead singer Angus Richardson recently announced that he was stepping away from the band. Before his likely final Milwaukee show, we chatted with Richardson and reflect on saying goodbye to Brother.