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The Possession

Danish director Ole Bornedal teams up with producer Sam Raimi and delivers a real-deal horror film with The Possession. In many ways, the movie is a kick-start to the heart of PG-13 horror. Much like Gore Verbinski’s remake of The Ring, The Possession delivers the spine-tingling goods in a classy, extremely cinematic fashion. The story is one where the scenes are flush with character moments, making the horrific events all the more intense. Though the picture shares certain strands of Raimi’s DNA, The Possession turns out to be very much in the vein of classic films such as The Omen and The Exorcist, thanks to its deliberate pace and polished tone. Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan excels as the lead, giving a soul to his role that is both unexpected and refreshing, while Natasha Calis turns in an outrageously creepy performance as the besieged child. Needless to say, admirers of time-honored genre pieces should be happy with what they see here. Hearkening back to 2009’s The Unborn, the movie explores demonic possessions from a Jewish angle. While this picture does not feature the acting chops of Gary Oldman, it impresses even more with its own low-key star power, with Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick anchoring the production as a divorced couple whose daughter, Em (Calis), becomes obsessed -- and changed -- by a mysterious box she finds at a yard sale. Turns out, the piece is a Dybbuk Box, a Jewish item from ancient folklore that purportedly houses an evil spirit. When things start to go awry with Em, her father is blamed for his not-so-squeaky-clean approach to the parenting of her and her sister Hannah (nicely played by Madison Davenport). As the situation gets worse, it’s apparent that young Em and the box must be separated, but first her father will need the help of a Jewish cleric named Tzadoc, stunningly played by real-life Jewish reggae-rapper Matisyahu. What follows is a film that sticks to the genre’s conventions, while still imbuing it with enough style and heart to keep the drama fresh and engaging. And it really is that mix of craft and emotion that sets The Possession apart from its contemporaries. For sure, the trappings of the all-too-popular found-footage style are nowhere to be seen here. Even the final moments, while predictable considering the subject matter, effectively amp up the terror while still keeping the audience engaged in the story. Thankfully, Bornedal takes his time with the proceedings, letting the actors breathe life into their characters -- a roll of the dice that never comes off as labored, even if the feel is diametrically opposed to many of the Hollywood movies passing themselves off as horror flicks these days. An all-around impressive outing for Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, who seemed to have given Bornedal the room he needed to deliver such a finely crafted production. Disquieting, lush in style, and most importantly, emotionally engaging, The Possession is a throwback to celebrated cinematic horror of old. Let’s just hope the crummy track record of the film’s PG-13 brethren doesn’t scare away the fans that will honestly respond to a picture genuinely this great.