What is with Hollywood's compulsion to remake The Exorcist over and over? Why was having one of the greatest horror movies of all time, something widely agreed upon by almost every horror movie list on the internet, not enough? I can't even keep track of the number of films based around this concept, so when it came time to watch The Possession, I could only hope that the influence of producer Sam Raimi would set it apart.
The plot revolves around a family initially dealing with a very different curse: divorce. We are introduced to Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the father, picking up his two daughters, Em and Hannah, from their mother Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). A quick stop at a yard sale leaves Em in possession of a mysterious box. The box is so creepy that I have to wonder why her father didn't question her interest right then and there.
Of course the box contains an evil spirit intent on possessing poor Em, but first the film smartly spends some time introducing these characters. By the time weird things start happening, we buy into their plight. When Em's strange behavior goes ignored for far too long, we believe it because the divorce creates some genuine, non-paranormal issues.
The problem is that when the creepy stuff starts happening, it's not quite as convincing as the initial character development. Between a bit of silly acting on the part of the young girls, and some downright melodramatic nonsense on the part of Kyra Sedgwick, I couldn't help but laugh at some of the film's attempts to scare the audience.
It showed its ability to be genuinely creepy, but often seemed to hold back. The demon hand gripping the inside of Em's throat (shown in the trailer), among some other morbid visuals sprinkled throughout, are sure to unsettle those who are easily unsettled by horror. For those who have seen this all before though, it simply isn't enough. It's one thing to avoid Hostel/Saw levels of brutality, but when a 2012 film is intimidated by the bar set by The Exorcist in 1973, there's a serious problem.
That said, it was an inspired move to step away from the typical Christian/Satan-stuff these films tend to deal in. The demon in the box is based on a Jewish story of an evil spirit. Sure, it's only one step removed, but it makes the mythological side of The Possession a lot more interesting than most horror films. It also provides us with a surprisingly great performance from Matisyahu.
The Possession isn't the bottom of the barrel shlock that last week's The Apparition was. It's a genuine attempt to create a believable horror film. In that sense I can't help but respect a solid effort. Unfortunately, it never quite fires on all cylinders. The Possession is a well-made film that fails at the subtle and difficult art of truly scaring an audience.