Repossessed, by Rita Cannon
There have been a lot of horror films made about the demonic possession of young people, especially girls. A lot of them claimed to be “based on a true story,” and they all tend to follow the same basic formula: Girl starts acting ooky. Everyone thinks she’s just “troubled,” or whatever. Ooky behavior escalates to an undeniably demonic level. Her family brings in an expert, and the exorcism begins, which is where the real fun starts. The Possession doesn’t try too hard to break from the chains of this formula – if it were concerned at all with doing so, it probably wouldn’t be called The Possession, which is sort of the supernatural horror equivalent of calling a romantic comedy Love Happens. It hits every beat you expect it to, but commits to every one of them, and delivers a perfectly fine, creepy B-movie experience.
The victim this time is Em Brenek (Natasha Calis), a precocious 10-year-old struggling to come to terms with the divorce of her parents (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) tells her she’d have an easier time of it if she just stopped caring, but she can’t. During a weekend with Dad, the girls go to a yard sale, and Em feels mysteriously drawn to an old wooden box with Hebrew letters carved on it. When they get it home and crack it open (which takes some doing – it’s almost as if someone didn’t want it opened!) it turns out to contains a mirror, some old jewelry, and a bunch of dead moths. It quickly becomes Em’s favorite thing, because, you know, little girls love dead moths. She grows increasingly obsessed with the box, and soon the ooky behavior kicks in.
Natasha Calis is excellent as Em. The part requires a lot of emotional outbursts in varying degrees of severity, and Calis makes them all feel utterly real. When playing the fully possessed Em, she doesn’t go dead-eyed and affectless like a lot of creepy movie kids. She maintains a suitably child-like energy and vulnerability, which doesn’t make her any less scary, but rather makes those sequences even more harrowing, because you never forget that there’s scared little kid beneath the otherworldly shrieking and gnashing of teeth.
One twist that The Possession does put on its genre is the specific provenance of its evil spirit. While many possession films take their cues from Catholic lore, the assailant in The Possession is a Jewish spirit called a dybbuk. The expert Em’s family gets help from is a rebellious rabbi’s son – played, in a weirdly perfect bit of casting, by one-time Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu.
The cinematography is beautiful, if unrealistically dark and shadowy in the way that horror films so often are. (One suspects that a lot of possessions, hauntings and murders could be prevented if people would simply turn on more lights.)
It’s not a great work of art, but as demonic child movies go, it’s skillfully made and hard to look away from.
I’m a sucker for movies about possession, but maybe I’ll wait for this one on DVD. Thanks for the great review.