Here it is, less than one week after I ripped apart 'House at the End of the Street' for being a terrible PG-13 scary movie, and I'm reviewing the PG-13 scary movie 'The Possession.' Considering I like horror movies that use the "less is more" tactic, you would think that PG-13 titles would carry a higher potential simply because they're limited in what they can show, thus less has to be more – but most are simply horrible. Off the top of my head, the only PG-13 horror flick that I truly love is 'Drag Me to Hell.' 'Drag Me to Hell' and 'The Possession' have Sam Raimi in common (he produces here). 'The Possession' is easily the best PG-13 horror movie since 'Drag Me to Hell,' one well worth seeing.
Just about every new horror movie finds a way to claim that it's "based on a true story," but in this case, that statement is quite truer than most. I will discuss the plot of the movie here, but will save the true story bits for the special features section since said true story is fully described there.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan ('Watchmen') plays the film's lead Clyde, a man who sacrificed his marriage for the success of his career as a basketball coach. With the divorce complete, it's now obvious that he longs for what he once had. Seeing his ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick) stirs up emotions of romance that once existed. While he's not fighting to win her back, he is definitely fighting to win over the bruised hearts of their two daughters – one a young teenager and the other a 10-year-old who believes that her parents will end up together again. When taking them for the weekend, Clyde surprises his daughters with the news that he has bought a nice new home with enough space for each of them to have their own bedrooms. Of course, when you move into a new house, you realize which necessary items you're lacking, so they stop at a yard sale to look for cheap and unique commodities.
'The Possession' opens with a puzzling scene of an older woman curiously being beckoned to a hinge-less whispering wooden box. She appears to both love and hate the box, but her true lack of affection for the box shines through when she lifts a hammer to destroy it. At that moment, something gross and terrible happens to her. We can only assume that it's caused by the box, so when Clyde's 10-year-old daughter Em is drawn to the box at the yard sale, we know that all hell is about to break loose – literally.
Personally, I'm burned out on exorcism movies. My expectations for 'The Possession' were lowered even farther because of it. Having said that, this film is an exception for the sub-genre. It features a slightly different take because it isn't told through the typical Roman Catholic point of view; this tale is based on the Jewish belief of demons and possessions, so - being my first exposure to the Jewish system - I didn't know exactly where it was going. The stakes are raised a little higher through this newly explained belief system.
For those who, like me, are curious about how much Raimi's influence shines through on 'The Possession,' let me explain. There is only one real aspect of the film that hints at his involvement – the sound. The use and lack of sound is perfectly plotted out. Sound is only used to punch the tension of a scene. It's never used as filler. The Raimi-esque instances that I noted were during tense scenes. The instant that this specific scene ended and cut to the next, a much safer scene, the audio – be it music or effects – abruptly ended with the video cut. Having 'Drag Me to Hell' on the brain, this aspect quickly triggered a connection between the two. But other than that, there aren't any other Raimi-isms of note.
I especially enjoyed the way 'The Possession' ends. Every generic wannabe-scary horror movie ever made closes with the same used-up ending. 'The Possession' sets itself up to follow suit, but does something slightly different and refreshing for a film of this genre. What happens isn't a twist, but it's almost completely unheard-of when it comes to the horror genre.
I'm not saying 'The Possession' is one of the best horror films of all time, because it's not. I'm just pleasantly surprised at how strong it is compared to the direction that the genre has been taken as of late. Just because it carries the PG-13 rating, don't write off 'The Possession' as the usual teenager-friendly so-called scary flick that it appears to be. It is much, much better than most of what's being released these days.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has given 'The Possession' a Region A BD-50 Blu-ray release that includes a code that unlocks both a Digital Copy and an Ultraviolet copy of the film. The disc and code are housed in a standard blue single-disc Elite keepcase that comes with a cardboard slip cover with almost identical artwork. Upon inserting the disc into your player, unskippable FBI warnings and Lionsgate vanity reels play, followed by skippable advertisements for 'Texas Chainsaw 3D,' 'The Last Exorcism,' 'Haunting in Connecticut,' Fear Net and Epix. The background of the main menu features a shot of girl with her hair draped in front of her face standing in a red-lit room. This image appears to be stagnant while flicking to and from blackness, but there is actually some slow movement taking place. The combination of this unsettling visual and the chosen audio is quite creepy.
'The Possession' arrives on Blu-ray with a damn near perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (the film's original aspect ration was 2.35:1). The amount of detail is so high that I can see most other Blu-ray releases in 2013 having video quality envy.
Before I can describe how great the picture looks, I want to explain how well-shot 'The Possession' is. Unlike most horror movies, there is a great amount of light within it. It quickly becomes evident that director Ole Bornedal enjoys wide shots from a distance that reveal bright reflective floors leading up to the on-screen action taking place deep within the picture. Because he's not going for cheap thrills that jump out of the shadows, his film is almost always well lit. He's not banking on scares from things hiding in the deep black sections of the screen. While, yes, there are many nighttime sequences, this isn't your shadowy and dark horror movie.
Having said that, 'The Possession' is set in a world that's almost always cloudy. I believe there is only one scene that takes place when the sun is shining. This world is composed of bright grays and colors muted from the cloudy skies. Bright lights are blinding, often times washing out the objects that stand in front of them. There are a few instances where color breaks through the bleakness - typically heavy reds. When we get to the scene that is used during the disc's main menu, the reds are designed to be overpowering, drastically oversaturated and unnerving. No details remain during this scene, but it was obviously a directorial decision and not a mistake caused while transferring the film to Blu-ray.
Aside from that one scene, fine details and textures are always visible. You will see every single facial hair on Jeffrey Dean Morgan's face and the varying porous textures of every single cast member's face. You will even get a sense of how certain articles of clothing feel to touch due to the amount of visibility of their material. Morgan wears a wooly pea coat in one scene and the scratchiness can be seen and felt. In another, we see the softness of Em's ruffled red bedspread. I cannot think of another instance where I could mentally feel the objects in the screen because of how deeply they were portrayed on-screen. If you're looking for a demo disc that reveals staggering amounts of detail, look no further.
So, if the video quality is as great as I'm saying, why the four-and-a-half star rating instead of a perfect five? Well, amidst it all, there is one flaw that barely makes itself evident – and it's not even a big one. During a few specific scenes, randomly appearing white specks pop up. It's not noise or grain, but appears more like dead pixels than anything else. I originally thought that I noticed it during a daytime scene, but wasn't certain of the flaw until a scene shot in the pitch blackness of a basement. Luckily, this isn't a frequent flaw. I only noticed it during three scenes – but even then, it's the only flaw that I could find in the entire picture.
As I described in my review, 'The Possession' features some great audio choices. Although some of them include complete silence, thanks to this strong 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, the loud ones really make some noise.
After clicking "Play" on the main menu, a new DTS demo reel plays that I haven't seen or heard elsewhere. It is fantastic, just as impressive as the old THX demo reels of the early '90s. Between this and the Lionsgate vanity reel that follows, we are given a quick preview of how dynamic, loud, bassy and rumbly this well-spread mix is going to be.
It's pointed out by the director in the opening of his commentary that sound is exceptionally important, that it should be used in unique and creative manners to enhance the film's content. While the opening sequence features some creepy and disturbing content, the music choice goes against the norm, playing cheerful and upbeat music as the horrifying actions unfold. This musical choice is not held up through the entire film, but serves as an example of his "outside the box" thinking. If a director puts this much thought, analysis and understanding into the sounds of his film, you'd better believe that the mix itself is going to do it fantastic justice.
Like I stated, music and scoring is used to punch certain scenes – but is never overused. In fact, many scenes lack music entirely, adding a whole other level of creepiness and unease to the viewing experience. Other times, tension is created by chaotic sounds that form a score of effects on their own. In one scene, when Em's soul yields to the possessor within, it forces her to eat her dinner like a mindless beast. The chaotic sounds of stabbing food, silverware clanking on the plate, becomes a disturbing musical piece of its own. As Clyde notices it, the audio gradually gets grander and grander, filling all channels.
Like Buffalo Bill in 'Silence of the Lambs', the demonic possessor here has some sort of strange obsession with moths, so from the time that Em first becomes acquainted with it, we start getting the first of many buzzing and swarming moths. Some scenes carry hundreds of them fluttering through an enclosed space. No matter how many there are, the mix is so strong that you can hear them buzz seamlessly and individually from one speaker to the next.
Again, with audio this great, why the four-star rating and not five? Like I said, another great directorial decision is the lack of sound. There are major chunks of this film that are devoid of effects or music, so it doesn't always shine as strongly as it does during the scenes that use it.
Despite constantly voicing my avid dislike for PG-13 horror movies, 'The Possession' is a rare occasion that has caused me to eat my words. It's very well made, well written, fairly tense, and goes against the grain of the typical possession/exorcism movie. Only making things better are exemplary near perfect video and audio qualities. The film's highly detailed shooting style is done sweet justice, and the unique Raimi-esque sound design is heightened by the lossless audio mix. Unless you love multiple strong commentary tracks, the special features are somewhat skimpy. The only featurette included is a chilling one dedicated to examining the real life story that inspired the film. While almost no PG-13 horror movies have warranted this response from me, I fully recommend 'The Possession.'