Sunday, September 2, 2012

Don't Brake for Yard Sales

Let's dress up like demon hunters!
The Possession follows a family whose lives are torn apart by a yard sale item. No, it's not a documentary.  It's a nice set up - while helping their newly-divorced dad shop for household goods for his still-smells-like-fresh-paint house, the youngest daughter's eye is caught by a box about the size of a silver chest, with strange carvings on the top and no discernible way to open it. Sure, kiddo, you can have it.  Lesson the First: don't buy anything you can't read.  Buy the kid the hat and what the heck, throw in the gloves.  But not the box.

The Possession is trying hard to be a scary movie with a religious twist, a la The Exorcist.  Now, I must confess that I'm not a horror fan, not really, but this one's okay by me.  The Possession is one of those movies that would rather make you jump than gross you out. It takes the approach that little girls acting weird are scarier than boogeymen and in this, I think the filmmakers are right.  Outside forces - the maniacal axe-murderer breaking down your door, for example - are certainly scary, but we know what to do about those.  4Ss and a B - shoot, stab, slash, shove, or burn.  One of those will probably do the trick. But when the terror is inside, when it's the familiar, especially the innocent, who's the Big Bad, well, a different system must be found to deal with the threat/problem.  After all, that's not J. Random Killer, that's Missy.
Nothing to see here, everything's fine.
There's a lot here to like - solid performances throughout (although by casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I kept wanting the Winchester boys from Supernatrual to show up with rock salt) and a few genuine jumps, at least for me.  Mind you, The Possession doesn't do all that much that's new - you've seen most of this before.  Two kids dealing with parents' still-raw divorce?  Check.  Dad who overindulges kids to be Fun Parent while Mom has to be the disciplinarian?  Check.  Ambitious, hard-working dad who misses important things in girls' lives?  Check.  Nice kid who becomes highly creepy after coming into contact with cursed object?  Check.  New boyfriend who cuts and runs when things get weird, proving that Mom and Dad ought to work this out for the kids?  Check.  Scary shadowy things in the corners of rooms and down people's throats?  Check.  People who are just too stupid to put their back against a wall so creepy things can't sneak up on them?  Check.  And so on.

That said, the film works a different vein of terror in that it's not a Catholic exorcism but a Jewish one.  The box was made to contain a dybbuk, a frightening supernatural creature out of Jewish folklore.  But the exorcism itself you've seen before - demons don't want to give up hosts very easily and they get extremely irked at anyone who tries to evict them.

By the way, the film is based on a story that ran in the Los Angeles Times back in 2004 called "A Jinx in a Box."  Read the story and you'll understand that when films use language like "based on actual events," they don't necessarily mean "based MUCH" on actual events.

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