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‘The Possession’ has neither the structure nor the strength to withstand its running time

‘The Possession’ has neither the structure nor the strength to withstand its running time

The Possession

Directed by Ole Bornedal

Written by Juliet Snowden, Stiles White

USA, 2012

The ‘Eddie’ is an award given by the American Cinema Editors for achievement in film editing.  The ‘Razzie’ is an award given by disgruntled moviegoers for recognition in the worst of filmmaking.  If the two ever joined forces (the ‘Readdies’?), Ole Bornedal’s The Possession would have the notorious distinction as the inaugural winner.

Not only is the story reductive, trite and impossible to follow, the shoddy and frustrating editing makes it impossible to care about. Seemingly slapped together by horror movie clichés, the film has neither the structure nor the strength to withstand its 92-minute running time.

To prove this point, let’s make a checklist of overused horror movie tropes. Is there a maudlin, down-on-his-luck man with emotional problems? Yes, he’s a basketball coach named Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Does he have family trouble? Of course he does; his ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick) has majority custody of their daughters, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport).

Does he inexplicably live in a remote, isolated place? Sure, his new house is in a partially developed neighborhood with no one else living there. Do they accidently come into possession of an eerie piece of paranormal paraphernalia? Obliviously – Em picks up a weird antique box at a garage sale. Does the poop start to hit the fan when the little girl starts doing crazy, demonic stuff in a not-so-subtle rip-off of The Exorcist? Does one even have to ask?

The only thing that’s distinctly original in The Possession is the fact that the occupying force isn’t Catholic. It’s a spirit called ‘dybbuk’, from Jewish folklore. But this ‘difference’ is specious to say the least because the film never bothers to fully elucidate the mythos behind it.

For example, there are a swarm of moths in the movie that take over the house and bury themselves in Em’s mouth. Is it germane to understanding the story behind dybbuk? Does it have anything to do with the story at all, or is it just there because it looks cool? Since the film never truly makes it clear, we have to assume the latter.

One reason why the supernatural elements in The Possession seem undeveloped is because the movie spends too much time on family angst and foibles. When Em starts acting a bit weird (like stabbing him in the hand with a fork), Clyde rationalizes this as her lashing out because of the divorce. When she gets into a violent brouhaha with a boy in school, both Clyde and his ex-wife blame it on (you guessed it) the divorce.

The audience knows it has nothing to do with it, and the writers themselves must know this. The dybbuk is the true root of the movie’s evil, but we never get a real sense of what it does because the focus is put squarely on family issues. Like Brad Pitt in Se7en, we wonder, “what’s in the box”, but knowing this movie, it’s probably just divorce papers.

The biggest crime in The Possession is not its unoriginality (does the girl wear a Victorian nightgown?); it’s the laughably bad editing. More than once, when the movie finally starts picking up in action and the music rises to an inevitable crescendo, the scene will abruptly end, with only the twang of a cheesy piano melody to accompany your disappointment.

In others, the movie will suddenly fade to black when it can’t find any other way to end the scene. It’s as if the movie was edited by someone with narcolepsy and a bad cough. Give that man or woman a Readdie.

– Justin Li