“Don’t worry, It’s just a cough”. Hands down the funniest line I’ve heard in a cinema this year. There was me, severely underwhelmed with what I was seeing and boom, I was floored. The poster for The Possession should ideally read “big laughs” and “the funniest film of the year, probably intentional”. If only Keith Lemon could have done this to me. Maybe then I wouldn’t have sat there contemplating my mortality for two hours to the backdrop of a fake moustachioed northerner in various states of arousal.
Let’s backtrack a bit. Watching the trailer of SAM RAIMI Presents The Possession (to give it it’s full unofficial title) one could be forgiven for thinking that it was going to be good. Why? Well SAM RAIMI’s presence for one. Just look at The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2 and Drag Me To Hell. The man knows all about making horror with a tongue firmly tunnelling through his cheek. It’s odd then that he’s plumped for producing this more straight-faced fare. It’s even more puzzling that it’s so generic and expected and terribly directed.
It starts decently enough. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Clyde, a nice guy down on his luck and in the midst of a divorce. He’s just got a new house and to suck up to the kids a bit (that or do something nice for them – I’m so cynical it’s hard to tell) takes them to a yard sale. One of the two daughters then buys a box that we’ve seen brutally attack someone at the start of the film inexorably leading things to take a sub-Exorcist turn for the derivative.
Mainstream horror these days leads from the front. You get Raimi on as a producer. You cut the trailer giving a load of short sharp shocks. You put the preposterous ‘based on a true story’ gubbins at the start of the film. Basically you wait to hit and run the box office for over $100 million before everyone realises that you’ve managed to create the worst ending in film history. The Devil Inside has a lot to answer for.
In the case of The Possession it seems everyone has been hooked by the main hook. The Dybbuk Box. A showpiece of Jewish folklore the Dybbuk Box is a real object (only going on what the opening credits said here) that literally (yes literally) contains an evil and vengeful spirit. This spirit (that totally existed) in recent history (the film is rather sketchy on the dates) actually possessed a young girl and made her eat her dinner really quickly, stab her father’s hand and speak like a 50 year old chain smoker at dramatically significant intervals.
This is all true (as the film told us remember). Don’t let sense, rationality or cynicism tell you otherwise, just don’t.
So, you’ve left your brain at the door and your money with the cinema. What are you getting? Not much really. You get the usual creepy kiddy transforms/growls/attacks sort of thing. You get a rather niche take on the Jewish faith and then you wait to be scared. You don’t get scared. Once they’ve set this all up with no integrity shock is all they’ve got. We get some un-terrifying locusts, some comical parent/teacher interaction and a guy’s teeth falling out. Actually, the guys teeth falling out was genuinely cringe-inducing. But in a good way. I liked it. ‘More teeth falling out please’ I sort of willed the film as everything went a bit shouty am-dram during the ‘finale’. No more teeth fell out.
The direction is the real star on show here though as Ole Bornedal manages to plough his way through tonal changes with all the subtlety of Bernard Herrmann in a Trombone factory. On the plus side there’s a few jumpy bits that might work, the children acquit themselves well and the family conflict adds a slight edge that otherwise may not have been there. Oh, and of course it’s got that killer “don’t worry, it’s just a cough” line which MUST be intentional (it’s not). At least it’s got the true story thing going for it as well so we can hold on to that. As a piece of docudrama I can only presume it exemplary (and long overdue considering the scientific, physics defying significance of this event). As a piece of horror cinema 0n the other hand it’s unlucky that what happened in real life was so humdrum. It’s almost as if the Dybbuk Box had seen the Cliff Notes of horror cinema for the last three years.