Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Possession. (2012) Ole Bornedal

October Chillers continues...

It makes my job so much easier when the title is the same as the plot.

Possession movies are soooo hit and miss. We come into these films fully knowing what to expect. We've seen it all before in many a film with a priest and a demon and a script, but it's never quite as good as the first time we got the holy crap scared out of us when we were kids.

The Exorcist was the film that did it for me. I'm sure The Exoricist is the film that did it for many. Seeing the darkness slowly creep upon Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair, somewhat typecast after the role) was an exercise in just enough spiritual realism mixed with over-the-top horror antics (the head spinning, the spider crawl), making the spectacle seem possible, morbidly fascinating, and scary as hell. Literally.

The Possession is a mostly decent horror film, but it has a little too much of the "antics" and too little of the "possible". That a powerful demon, in this case a dybbuk from Jewish folklore, can be trapped in a box, for anyone to open at anytime is rather silly. Genie in a bottle, anyone? And in one scene in particular a thousand moths seem to magically come out of that box and spend some time in the bedroom of the little girl pre-possessed. I don't know how to trap a fox in a box, much less a demon, and while I don't know where the moths came from I guess they made for a somewhat cool visual.

But it's a fun film to watch, and the possessed little girl here has a Linda Blair aura about her. In fact, all of the acting is solid (even Matisyahu as a Jewish exorcist!), along with excellent visuals, up until the ending, when the dybbuk makes his full, physical appearance. And even at that point the visuals are fun, theatrical, and kinda freaky. Just not very believable.

The score, classic in its feel, brings a different dimension than much of what's currently released. No sonic soundtrack with loud head banging bands; no over-the-top goth industrial. This is a classic exorcism film that wants itself taken seriously, and the score does a lot to improve its odds. But remembering the beginning from the end ("Based on a True Story") would hold it up to a harder scrutiny.

The tag about it being "Based on a True Story" makes me think a bit about my own experiences with exorcism (which I'll briefly explain in a moment), and the odds of a possession actually being real. For the record,  I've come up with four ways of looking at the possibilities:

1. The phenomenon of possession is spiritual. There is a God, and he lets innocent young girls get possessed by demons (why, in the movies, is it always an innocent little girl?), seemingly by chance, in this case, a dybbuk box - a box used in Semitic culture for holding a demon. In the case of The Exorcist it was a Ouija board, but many films of this type have their own method of introducing a creature from hell. That the object may be the method is a lesser question than whether this is actually possible, and to out-rule the notion that there is a God who lets this happen, whatever the reason, is to claim to be higher than God and to claim that we know how the Universe should operate, that our ideas are better than his. There is a possibility that He does exist, and I would never claim to be omniscient.

2. The phenomenon of possession is mental. This is a sickness, and illness of sorts. The best film example that tackles this argument is The Exorcism of Emily Rose. There is no spirituality, there is only science, and this is an issue about mental health.

3. The phenomenon of possession is sociological. It is a repressed, fear-based reaction to religious group-think. I guess this would also be classified under "psychological."

4. The phenomenon of possession is for entertainment purposes only, and we'll simply never know if any of this is possible, regardless of the words "Based on a True Story."

I can clearly remember, growing up in strong Pentecostal culture, two times when I witnessed actual exorcisms. Looking back on it now, I'm resolute in my belief that this is about repression, and group-think, and a "blame it on the Devil" way of being. I can remember one young man being told to name his demon, and the words that came from his lips (and I saw this from a mile away) were, "P---P---Pornography."

Wow. If there's a demon out there called "Pornography," then half of the first world male population is possessed. A demon of that name could exist, but I rather think that, instead, many men simply have dishonorable personal qualities.

Regardless, the demon is a figure, whether mythological or not, that we'll continue to tackle in exorcism movies of this kind. They aren't going away anytime soon. So this is in some ways a typical though well crafted exorcism film. Director Ole Bernedal (known previously for the phenomenal Just Another Love Story) has a talent for creating suspense and tension in his films which build to visually explosive climaxes. He's no longer a director to watch, but rather one to follow.

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