The Possession

By Jared Young

Mailed on September 04, 2012

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Dear Ryan Mains
Trainee Assistant Location Manager

Dear Ryan,

Here you are at the beginning of your career, training to become the second-in-command of finding the exact right place to shoot a film. You're learning the essential task of tracking down the street, space, or building that is a physical expression of the subtext of a scene or sequence. For much of The Possession, that location is a newly-built home in a suburban development still under construction. Unfortunately for this Sam Raimi-produced horror flick, as with most cookie-cutter McMansions, a pretty facade conceals structural malfeasance.

In The Possession, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the delinquent divorced dad who, apparently hoping to conjure a bit of that 1950s-nuclear-family-vibe, buys the aforementioned house. On weekends, he entertains his two daughters, easily distinguishable as The Bookish One and The Popular One (the latter played by Madison Davenport, who bears a rather distracting resemblance to pre-pubescent Lindsay Lohan). And though the house has nothing directly to do with ensuing supernatural horror--no, the MacGuffin here is a polished wooden box covered in strange Hebrew markings that Bookish Daughter buys at a garage sale - it is the scene of much pseudo-religious foolery: voices whispering in dead languages, distorted faces in mirrors, an invasion of perpetually agitated moths, heavy piano notes. The house's remoteness is sort of enthralling - we never see anyone else in the neighborhood, we never see the lights in the other half-built homes - but that sense of isolation, of being cut off from the rest of the world, is never explored. Sadly, director Ole Bornedal is concerned only with building something that appears, from afar, to be a suspense film. Once you get inside, nothing holds up to inspection.

The foundation is cracked: there's no logic to the way the story jumps from one scene to another, or to the way characters react to the strange transformation of a precocious Harriet-the Spy-type into the kind of stringy-haired girl-creature who climbs out of televisions in Japanese horror movies. Protective mom Kyra Sedgwick in particular, will probably require surgical reconstruction after this much nervous lip-biting.

Atrocious dialogue is strung like faulty wiring throughout each scene. When Morgan proclaims, "There's something more going on here!" it's the spoken equivalent of knob and tube. Even an amateur will recognize that something is afoul with this blatantly obsolete expression of an essential component.

There's something wrong with the furnace, too: the temperature goes from swarthy-hot to church-vestibule-cold from scene to scene. Right after a jokey tete-a-tete with a university professor (where we finally get a sense of Raimi's influence), Morgan goes full-Philip-Seymour-Hoffman while tearfully begging a group of Hasidic holy men to help him exorcise the demon who has taken possession of his daughter. It's enough to make you sick.

You're at the beginning of your career, Ryan, and it's just as important for you to learn what _not _to do. In this case, don't go cheap. You can't cut any corners. Even when time is short and materials are scarce. A well-built film is the sum of its smallest parts.

Unfortunately, even for a late-summer Exorcist-wannabe, The Possession isn't up to code. Next time you're looking for that exact right location, remember that craftsmanship matters: the architectural plans, the landscaping, the paint swatches for the sunroom--none of it means anything if you're not going to take pride in every strut, every nail, every frame.



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