‘The Possession’ is outdated and conservative

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The Possession (2012)
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
USA, 2012

The Possession is the newest film in a dominant sub-genre of horror family dramas that seem to be invading our theatres with increasing persistence. Very much on par with recent horror trends, at the center of the film is a father figure who finds his masculinity attacked and who must, through the engagement with either violence or an archaic belief system, restore the social order. Though for dramatic effect, these films are presented as open-ended with horror still looming, more often than not the social order and patriarchy is restored.

The Possession does not necessarily take any missteps. Compared to many of its contemporaries, the film is fairly straightforward and does not strive too hard to be dumb. This is in part due to a fairly strong cast, headed by the naturalistic and effortlessly charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It, however, does not strive to be something more. Perhaps some will appreciate the “twist” of avoiding the tropes of Catholicism, however looking at the end result the film does not capitalize on the details that would set it apart from more familiar possession stories.

The best scene in the film is by far its first. Operating as its own mini-narrative it seems to be set in the mid-point of the twentieth century – which turns out not to be the case.  An older woman seems tortured by a strange box on her mantel piece; it seems to have a life of its own. She leaves the room and as she runs her fingers through her hair, a huge chunk falls out. Grabbing a hammer, she confronts the box, when suddenly her face seems to melt and her body is thrown across the room like a rag doll. The sequence is suspenseful, not only in its strangeness, but in the multiplicity of the action created by an arriving character outside. There is always an impending doubt of where the source of anxiety lies, whether it exists solely in the mind of the character or is truly an external force. The rest of the film never quite matches the intensity or intrigue of this sequence.

As with other current horror films it is really only in the use of technological mediums that the film manages to be fresh. In this case, the film utilizes technology within a scene evocative of The Exorcist, where Regan is examined by a doctor. Though it does not have the same chilling quality of the original, which is able to unnerve without even a hint at the paranormal, it is nonetheless compelling. As much as many other horror films have at its center an inadequate male figure, it is similarly on par for horror to suggest the unnerving presence of technology. This film does not necessarily tackle technologies in a new way; however it is part of a far more interesting trend. The idea that evil can either be captured or move through increasingly sophisticated image technology speaks to a fear of the inability to control our creations, well suited to the religious heavy implications of possession films. At the center of this concept is the idea that a society that seems to be moving forward can double back, continually engaging with ancient fears and doubts. Maybe contemporary society was wrong to cast away the old ways of thinking and we will eventually be crippled by our secularism.

The Possession creates a few clever images, but they fail to resonate. At best, the film works as part of a greater whole, suggesting a fascinating trend in horror cinema. However the trend itself seems outdated and overtly conservative. Though it is easy to argue that horror cinema is among the most conservative genres, with movies like Cabin in the Woods, Resolution and [rec] 3 pushing boundaries and moving forward, is it wrong to expect a little more? To expect not only something new, but to expect films that present ideas that force us to reflect and rethink our society, rather than reaffirm outdated cultural models.

–          Justine

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