The Possession came with good pedigree with Danish director Ole Bornedal (of the two morgue-set Nightwatch movies - the original Danish language version and the US remake with Ewan McGregor) and producer Sam (the Evil Dead) Raimi on board the demonic ghost train to the heart of this Frighfest 2012 European premiere.
While the film did nothing new with the possessed child genre it was well shot and contained a few, mostly family-friendly scares. In the US the rating was toned down on appeal, to reach a wider audience - the Twilight generation if you like, but all horror fans can have fun with this one, whether hardened or hormonal.
I was sitting next to an archetypal young couple in love on one side of me for this penultimate Frightfest screening and at least one of the two had their head burrowed in the other's lap after a couple of the best scares (at least I think that's what they were doing - being scared!). On the other side of me; a group of behooded blokes (who said they had bought tickets on spec, mid-pub crawl) had taken over a couple of rows, looking like they could face anything up there on that horrorfest screen and not bat an eyelid (or certainly not burrow their heads in each other's laps) but by the end of the film, at least a couple of this lager-humidified group had jumped, a little, and sworn under their breath. Result Raimi!
This reminded me of a similar experience watching writer Stephen Volk's 'The Awakening' at the London Film Festival the year before and grabbing the seat arm (that I thought belonged to me) at one jump-point (sometimes, yes, even a hardened horror fan can be struck with a bad case of the jumps!), only to realise it was a stranger's arm I'd just grabbed hold of (not sure what it was doing on my seat though - perhaps he had jumped in the same way I had) - we repositioned and didn't mention what had just happened. It could have been the start of a beautiful friendship! Either that or a punch-up in the dark.
Back to the plot of The Possession and at the start of the film, two young sisters join newly divorced Dad in his suburban home while Mum goes to the opera with her new dentist boyfriend. Dad lets the youngest daughter buy a weird wooden Dibbuk (demon inside - no extra charge) box at a jumble sale without realising it contains the terror of Judaism within - a spirit that seeks out the young and innocent (naturally, as what spirit would seek out very old drunken men with bad personal hygiene to live in, although - hey, what a movie that would make!).
The younger daughter gets possessed and all hell breaks loose (well, a version of Hell suitable for a PG-13 certificate in the US anyway!).
I loved the roaming sky-high camera looking down on the rows of suburban houses like a waiting spirit in the sky and the soundtrack that was composed of a deep note piano refrain, that occasionally turned into the soundtrack of Jaws for some reason! There were a number of unexpected scares involving teeth, some really deep throat, books in bed and bad table manners. Some of these shocks gave me a bad dose of the shiveries. The CAT scan was the most terrifying sequence in a horror film I've seen in a while. You know what's coming, but when it does - goosebumps on tap!
Best surprise of all, was that the girl playing the possessed younger sister, easily slunk into the rank and file of demonic movie kids alongside the evil likes of The Omen's Damien and The Exorcist's Regan. Possessed Em sitting on a swing in her short grey dress and Wellington boots glowering at the camera with black-ink filled eyes and wild hair blowing in the breath of a demonic breeze, sent chills to the base of the spine and back up again. Natasha Calis as Evil Em is a revelation - as convincingly in need of being saved as she is of being staked through the heart and splashed with holy water.
As a penultimate movie at Frightfest 2012, The Possession was a fun time to be had by all, and it's refreshing that a traditional demonic possession flick can still be as rewarding today in the horror genre as it has been in the past. While in an increasingly real-life hard-edged and randomly violent world, extreme horror and films with 'hoodies' as the boogeyboys probably deservedly thrive and have a right to exist and confront fears of a modern age (at the same time annoying those old enough to remember the original The Omen at the cinema - and it's right that horror films do annoy the older generation and cause controversy), there is still a place for old-fashioned fright films such as The Possession in modern horror.
We've been here before in The Possession's world of targeted scariness, but there's enough that's different about this movie to ensure longevity, especially the demonic exorcism by a young, fabulously deadpan, gangly and witty Jewish expert on all things demonic doing a job that his elders refuse to even consider being a part of . The special effects too, including the deep throat crawling of nasties up and down the gullet, all earn The Possession real kudos for me.
By the way, cast and crew were quoted in publicity interviews for the release of the movie describing the strange things that happened on set: lightbulbs exploding; a creepy feeling and sense of unease throughout the shoot - and the storeroom where the Dibbuk prop was kept, went up in flames seven days after shooting wrapped, for no reason local firefighters could determine.
The film is beautifully framed and while the ending in the hospital basement is perhaps a bit silly and contrived, it's a great ride to be on, and features enough contortions and red-eyed growling in the light of an overhead bulb or gloomy shadows to hold the attention. There were also at least a couple of deaths in this movie that I didn't expect and in the case of the last of these - the audience actually gasped when the moment came (also a moment that earned the legendary Frightfest rare round of applause!). You can't ask for more in the closing hours of a five day-long festival of horrors both sickening and, just sometimes, a little bit more magical and old-school demonic.
Words: Mark Gordon Palmer