With so many movies based on “true stories” nowadays, you’ve got to applaud the current generation of screen-writers. Not because they’re doing a remarkable job adapting these “true stories”, but because surely it’s making their job of writing fiction so much more difficult? Demons? Please! They definitely exist, as Paranormal Activity has shown. Ghosts you say? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was covered in An American Haunting. Witches? Oh come on – The Blair Witch Project (probably) proved that. So what does The Possession – the newest “based on a true story” horror film bring to the table …? Yup, demons again. Fear not Twilight, we’ve not yet caught wussy “vegetarian” vampires on film…
As you may have astutely ascertained from the title of the film, the story revolves around the premise of demonic possession. Here, the tale focuses on a sealed box that is bought for young Em (Natasha Calis) by her dad, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Naturally, there’s something odd about the box – its sealed tight, but what lies inside? Yes indeed – some vengeful demon! Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler. What did you think it’d have in it? Coco Pops? Cue a demonic possession horror story that you’ve probably seen time and time again.
The trouble with the film is that it’s so derivative, although I must admit it’s hard for a writer to pen a tale of demonic possession and not have people say “oh, it’s like The Exorcist then?”. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that The Possession lurches from cliché to cliché of modern horror at a staggering pace. Firstly, there’s the lack of true scares. As with last year’s Insidious, we’re bombarded with ramped up sound effects to “scare” us. These aren’t scary – they’re startling and jarring. Then you have the target of the demon. If you had to picture someone in your mind, what would he / she look like? Young? Check. A girl? Check. Dark hair? A bit like Samara from The Ring? Well done – go collect 10 Phage points from the kiosk because that’s what you’re given! Why can’t someone break this tradition and cast a young, Indian boy as the target of the demon? At least that would be an attempt at being different.
In terms of the acting on display, I must say it wasn’t bad at all. Certain actors in the piece are actually the film’s redeeming feature. I thought 13 year old Natasha Calis acted very admirably and hit all the right notes. Too bad her make-up department decided that a look akin to a cross between Beetlejuice and the WWF’s Undertaker from circa 1994 was the correct way to emphasise she was “possessed” in the latter stages. However, it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Losers) that really held the piece together playing a divorced dad with ambitions of coaching big league basketball. I know that the sub-plot of his basketball coaching was totally unnecessary, but I’d have been happy to see more of it. Or maybe I was hoping the film would turn into Moneyball with basketballs.
But back on point, I thought Morgan really shone here, and he was clearly the most fleshed-out character in the script. This led to supporting roles such as older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) and the mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) coming across as extremely shallow and yes – clichéd – as neither believes in the possession until it’s too late. And before you wonder whether it at least ends in a unique way, then… no. I obviously won’t tell you what unfolds, but you probably already know in your heart of hearts if you’ve seen any horror film from the past 5 years.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s no point in writing stories of possession as they’re always clichéd. For instance, I thought 2010’s The Last Exorcism was a great take on the idea and was also a damn good film. Even The Exorcism of Emily Rose attempted something different, even if it did fall flat. I just don’t know why writers, directors and studios are succumbing to this horrible trend of loud noises equating to horror. I mean, this has Sam Raimi up on the posters (he’s a producer) – the man responsible for The Evil Dead – and still nothing innovative comes through. A true horror should insidiously work its way into your psyche and have your nerves shredded. As much as the series is lambasted by purists, at least Paranormal Activity (at least the first one) really draws the audience in and has them recoiling in terror owing to the tension. For me, no film has surpassed the terror pay-offs of Rec (original Spanish version) and The Ring. Those films ended with a bang and really had my nerves shot on first viewing. Sadly, The Possession comes no-where near these two juggernauts or anything Asian cinema has spat out recently.
The Possession isn’t the worst horror movie you’ll see this autumn as we close in on Halloween. That I can more or less guarantee. But it’s never going to be regarded as a classic, nor even “one to pick up on DVD”. I’d recommend a rental when it hits stores if you’re into possession stories, or if you’re looking to hook up with that girl from down the street when you have a DVD night. I’m not saying the content is erotic (unless she’s a really freaky chick), but at least it might have her jumping into your arms if you have the 5.1 booted up. Especially if she’s a Twilight fan, as all she’s used to is wussy vampires and wimpy werewolves. In fact, go grab that glitter, sprinkle it on your chest and then watch The Possession. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what will.
Aside from a winning personality, a stunning smile and a healthy disposable income.