Rewind Review: 2012’s ‘The Possession’

Natasha Calis stars as ‘Em’ in THE POSSESSION.  Photo credit: Diyah Pera

The Possession is a supernatural Horror film written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, directed by Ole Bornedal, and produced by Sam Rami (yes, THE Sam Rami).

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

As the title of the film makes abundantly obvious, The Possession is part of the Possession subgenre of Horror.  Right off the bat, there are a few reasons to skip this film.  First of all, it’s pretty standard fair as far as this type of movie goes; The Possession is yet another movie inspired by The Exorcist but, or course, it’s nowhere near as scary (because, seriously, how could it possibly be?).  So if you’ve seen The Exorcist, as well as more recent subgenre heavyweights like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism, you are already well versed in modern tales of demonic possession.

This is not to imply in any way, however, that The Possession isn’t a quality film—it is, and it’s definitely worth a watch.  While it’s unabashedly familiar, this film also has a lot of stand out qualities that fans of the Possession subgenre will gobble up.  It’s not the first possession film told from the Jewish perspective; while The Unborn forged that territory back in 2003, that film was almost indistinguishable from most Christianity-centric representations of exorcisms (except that Gary Oldman wore a skull-cap).  The Possession, on the other hand, has a distinctly ethnic feel—a vibe that taps into the inherent mysticism of Hasidic Judaism: Their secretive nature, retro style suites, and Biblical era bears, for example.  This is the same sect responsible the infamous Golem of Prague, a subculture where belief in the supernatural is still prevalent.

Dibbuk 17-293.NEF

The Possession also features a haunted object associated with Hasidic Judaism: A dibbuk box.  A dibbuk (or dybbuk) is a malicious possessing spirit believed to be a dislocated soul.  A dibbuk box is a sort of prison for the spirit, one constructed out of wood and metal, containing relics, and inscribed with grave warnings.  In The Possession, the dibbuk in the box seeks a pure soul to inhabit—and finds one in pre-adolescent tween-ager Emily “Em” Brenek (played skillfully by Natasha Calis).

Poor Em: She’s only 10-years old and her parents are recently divorced.  Lately, she’s just not acting like herself.  She’s withdrawn and distracted.  She’s over-eating and acting out violently.  The fact that her teachers instantly assume her issues stem from a troubled home life proves what a great and immediate metaphor demonic possession is for dysfunctional angst.  In a sense, the dibbuk box itself is also a metaphor for angst; once those inner demons are released, it may be difficult or impossible to contain them again.

Natasha Calis’s portrayal of Em is one of the film’s greatest strengths, as the actress conveys a legitimately unnerving sense of creepiness.  Before the evil truly emerges, she’s already brilliantly emotive: Confused and distant with something dangerous lurking just beneath the surface.  She’s like a drug addict desperately trying to maintain a cool appearance before giving in to ravenous desires.


As a fully possessed person, Calis and the FX crew both deserve a standing ovation.  She is absolutely chilling and truly animalistic.  Her white eyes and gaping maw are arresting.  When the dibbuk takes control, all traces of Em evaporate.  All of the dibbuk effects are awesome; it’s an almost androgynous creature one might expect to crawl out of a cave in Middle Earth.  A scene where the spirit’s face becomes visible in an MRI image is especially shivery.

The Possession features reggae-rapper Matisyahu in a significant supporting role (back when he still sported a Hasidic beard and sideburns); he plays Tzadok, the son of a Jewish elder, who decides to help Em and her family when all other avenues appear closed.  As for what we’ve come to expect from a vanquishing exorcist, Matisyahu is unique.  Even though they added a swath of gray hairs into his beard, he’s still got a baby face (heck, he couldn’t have been much older than 30 when this film was released).  This is a contrast to the aged, almost papal figures we’ve seen in other possession films.  As Tzadok, Matisyahu invokes and sings and rocks back and forth with conviction, making for an amped-up final battle between good and evil.

Like all good Possession movies, The Possession claims its basis in reality.  Ryan over at Rhino’s Horror released an excellent article on the supposed truth behind the film, including a short documentary companion.  It’s a fair and interesting examination that’s definitely worth checking out: HERE.  You can also find stories about strange on-set occurrences that supposedly plagued the production (similar to claims made about The Exorcist) over at IMDB: HERE.

So while it won’t blow anyone’s mind in terms of originality, The Possession is still a great example of the subgenre it represents—a must see if demonic possession is your cup of tea.  If I were to make a list of the Top 10 Exorcism films, The Possession would definitely make the cut.  It’s got great acting, great special FX, and a heavy kick—especially for a film that’s only rated PG-13.

3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE 


Directed by Ole Bornedal
Produced by Sam Raimi
Robert Tapert
J. R. Young
Written by Juliet Snowden
Stiles White[1]
Starring Natasha Calis,
Jeffrey Dean Morgan,
Kyra Sedgwick,
Grant Show,
Madison Davenport,
Music by Anton Sanko
Editing by Raph Adiao
Studio Ghost House Pictures,
North Box Productions
Distributed by Lionsgate

About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: View all posts by Saucy Josh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: