Satan’s Wine Crate: The Possession (2012) film review

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It was a boring Friday for me, filled with the usual minutia of daily life (work, etc.). So, in an effort to break the day up for myself, I did two things that I usually very rarely do: I went to the movies on a Friday night and I saw a horror movie that I had little to no interest in. The Possession, which came out two weeks ago, is the film I am referring to and the theater that I attended was still moderately full, which is actually surprising for a middling horror film in this day and age. I went in expecting the worst and left with mixed feelings about the whole film, deciding to allow myself some time to really let the movie germinate in my subconscious before I put fingertips to keys in an effort to dissect this little horror flick.  Since returning home from the theater I have showered and slipped into my robe, sliced myself some cheese, and poured myself a half-glass of a delicious 2010 Merlot. I’m ready to review The Possession.

The Possession is the mostly true (according to the poster above) account of a haunting. The film opens in the home of an older woman staring at an old, yet beautifully carved wine box. The ambiance is unsettling and soon the woman is charging at the box with a hammer in an attempt to either open, but most likely destroy, said wine box. Before she can reach the box, she is violently thrown around the room, her body forced into unlikely contortions. Her son soon arrives to discover his mother unconscious on the floor.

After this set up we are introduced to Clyde (played by the always remarkable Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he picks up his two daughters, Emily (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), from the home of his recently divorced wife, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick). As Clyde is driving his children to his home for the weekend, he reveals that he has just purchased a brand new house in a  reclusive part of town. The family eat and continue with the rest of their weekend as minor bits of exposition related to the family drama are revealed. The next day, Clyde is driving around town when Hannah spots a yard sale and convinces her father to stop and find some dishes for his new home. While rummaging through the items at the yard sale, Emily finds an old wine box (yep, you guessed it, the same box from the film’s opening) that she is immediately drawn to. She persuades her father to buy it for her and we soon learn that the yard sell is being held by the son from the opening of the movie. As Clyde is paying for the items that he and his daughters have acquire, Emily walks around outside the home, soon spotting the mother from the beginning of the film (who is bandaged up from head to toe, compliments of the carnage she suffered). The mother eventually looks out the window and sees that the little girl has the box. Spotting this, the mother begins to freak out and bang on the glass before her caretaker comes and draws the curtains.

Back at home, Emily and her father attempt to open the box but find that they can’t because there isn’t an obvious latch to open. Then one night while fiddling with the box alone in her room Emily discovers the secret to opening the box, revealing various personal trinkets including hair, dead moths, a tooth that has been pulled from a human skull, and a ring (which Emily promptly puts on).

Emily eventually becomes obsessed with the box, spending most of her time either talking to it or staring at herself in the mirror that lines the inside lid. Emily slowly becomes more detached from her family and more possessive of the box, demanding that her father not touch it but watch over it while she stays at her mother’s house. Odd phenomenon soon begins to manifest itself in the form of multiple moth infestations and Emily’s odd behavior, culminating in an incident during breakfast where, in a trance-like state, she continues to stuff pieces of pancake into her mouth until she is confronted by her father multiple times, resulting in her stabbing him in the hand with her fork.

Emily’s behavior manages to slowly grow worse until she violently attacks a schoolmate who attempts to steal the box from her. The box is confiscated by her teacher who later tries to open it and is thrown from the school window to her death by unseen forces. When Emily is told about her teacher’s “accident” she responds nonchalantly to the news, asking only if her father can retrieve her box for her. Worried about her well-being, Clyde takes the box from school and then throws it into a dumpster down the street. When Emily learns what has become of the box she verbally attacks her father, saying spiteful things to him about his divorce and telling him that she never loved him. She is then struck in the face by unseen forces just as Hannah comes out of her room. Hannah, thinking Clyde has hit Emily, confronts the two and Emily runs out of the house and down to the dumpster to retrieve her box as Clyde chases after her. When Emily finally finds the box again, she becomes completely possessed by the spirit as moths spring from within the box and into Emily’s throat until she collapses. Clyde finds Emily collapsed and takes her back to his house where Stephanie and the police are waiting for him

Disturbed by the events that have transpired, Clyde takes the box to a professor from the school where he coaches a basketball team. The professor tells him that the box is indeed a Dybbuk box that dates back to the early ’20s and contains the broken spirit of an ancient Jewish demon. After doing extensive research, Clyde visits a Hasidic community and enlists the help of a Jewish priest, Tzadok (played by Matisyahu) to help him exorcise the demon from his daughter’s body.

Emily is eventually taken to the hospital for an MRI after she is found savagely eating raw meat and other food out of her mother’s fridge and violently attacks her mother when she is confronted about it. During the MRI, Stephanie spots the images of the demon inside Emily’s body and is horrified at the sight.

Clyde soon shows up at the hospital with Tzadok and they take her to the physical therapy room in the basement to perform the exorcism, during which Emily escapes. Clyde tracks down Emily and a scuffle ensues,  ending with the Dybbuk possessing him. Tzadok then attempts the exorcism again and is successful and the Dybbuk crawls from out of Clyde’s mouth and back into the box.

At the end of the film, with the family together again, Clyde calls Tzadok to thank him and Tzadok assures him that he will hide the Dybbuk box away somewhere safe. After he hangs the phone up he is hit by an 18-wheeler and the box is flung from the wreckage, presumably to be found by someone else.

Despite the fact that the exorcism/haunting movie seems to be the go to scare trends as of late, The Possession was actually one of the better horror movies I’ve seen lately. I think that the cast deserves a good portion of the credit for this. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, brings quite a performance to this movie as the troubled father. It’s a character that I feel has pretty much been done to death, especially in the many films that are a lot like this one, but Morgan seems to make it all feel a little more fresh when he does it. Kyra Sedgwick does decently with the minor part she is given as well, playing the perfect cookie-cutter skeptic character that these kind of movies thrive on. But where the cast really shines is in that of young Natasha Calis who I thought did a terrific job as Emily. It is rare when you can find child actor that manages to embody characters so well, especially in a movie where the easy solution would be to ham it up. Rather than do that, Natasha plays to part with a subtler edge, cutting like a sharp knife in small strokes: you don’t realize you’ve been cut until you look down and see the blood. It’s rare to see performances like that in the horror movies today, especially from younger actresses. Matisyahu does a good job with his minor role, making the best of his fifteen minutes rather than fall into the cracks of bit part that nobody remembers.

The scares in this movie are few and far between, which is something I wasn’t expecting going into the movie. In viewing the trailer I was expecting more scare tactics than were present in the film. Instead, director Old Bornedal decides to take a creepier tone with a slow pace that builds over the course of 90 minutes until the eventual climax, which I’m assuming is largely producer Sam Raimi‘s doing. It works well for the material and was a blissful surprise in a movie that I thought would be nothing more than schlocky scare tactics.

All in all, the movie doesn’t really bring anything new to the pantheon of exorcism movies or horror movies in general, but that’s O.K. This movie doesn’t really try to break new ground or take itself too seriously, which is why I enjoyed it more than other horror movies as of late. The cinematography was quite beautiful and a lot of the shots took a more artful approach instead of a “put the camera wherever the monster can pop into frame” outlook, which helped the film tremendously. If nothing else, the film can boast topping the box office during the worst weekend in over a decade, which in itself is something of an accomplishment.