In a lot of ways, the story behind the 2012 Ghost House Pictures film The Possession is a great deal more interesting than the movie itself is. The short version is that writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White heard about the rumored existence of the 'Dybbuk Box' and decided to base a possession story around it. The what now? The 'Dybbuk Box' of course (referred to as a Dibbuk Box in the movie).The story behind this is that an antiques store owner bought a wine cabinet at an estate sale that belonged to a Jewish holocaust survivor. The box supposedly held a dybbuk inside, which according to Jewish lore is an evil spirit that can and will possess the body of a living human. A great idea for a horror film, right? One that can take advantage of the rich history of Jewish folklore and offer up something interesting, something unique, and hopefully, something scary.
The story of the film follows a similar path. The movie begins with a scene in which an older woman wrestles with an attempt to open a strange old box. With some help from some big band music and a hammer she tries to destroy it but it's to no avail and something throws her about the room like a ragdoll, knocking her out much to the dismay of her son who finds her laying there almost dead. From there we meet a basketball. coach named Clyde Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), recently divorced from his ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). Despite their differences, the two are the proud parents of their daughter Em (Natasha Calis) and her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport). When Clyde takes his daughters out one afternoon they stop at your average, ordinary garage sale - after all, Clyde has just moved into his own place and as Em points out, he needs dishes. Here Em spies and is unusually drawn to an old wooden box with Hebrew letters on it. Clyde buys it for her but not before Em sees in the window of the house an old woman wrapped in bandages, obviously upset about the transaction.
When Em and Hannah return home, Em's obsession with the box increases. Later that night Em gets the box open on her own and finds inside a tooth, a dead moth and a ring, which she puts on. From here, she starts to quickly change from a happy go lucky kid to a reclusive and seemingly depressed child. Bizarre things happen around the house, animals noises can be heard in the kitchen with no seemingly plausible source, Em stabs her father with a fork and starts to vomit, all sorts of bad stuff. Obviously Clyde is concerned and things go from bad to worse when Em brings the box to school. An altercation with another student occurs and Clyde and Stephanie are called in to discuss the incident. When Em starts telling her parents about an old woman who lives inside the box her parents realize that this is the cause of the problems and they attempt to get rid of it but Em isn't going to let that happen as its power over her continues to grow and Em's behavior gets more and more intense and horrible.
The Possession is slick and well made and features some solid acting from a talented cast. It takes the folk story of the dibbuk in some interesting directions and attempts to craft something different from your average knock off of The Exorcist. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it does not but if you're a fan of possession films this one is worth a watch. Made for a PG-13 audience the movie never quite goes as far, visually speaking, as some of its counterparts but does succeed in creating some decent atmosphere, particularly in the latter half of the film once Em's parents realize what has happened to her and go about trying to fix it. They know that there's more to this than just an old wooden box and as they try to sort all of this out the movie brings us along for the ride with some decent results.
On the flip side of this coin is that fact that the movie does fairly frequently rely on clichés of the possession film sub-genre. The movie doesn't really do anything all that new in terms of how it depicts the possession of the victim and, once again, that victim is a little girl. Of course we require the victim to be a sympathetic character in the first place in order to make the story work but it seems that almost every possession film ever made uses a little girl as the receptacle for the demonic dabbling of its antagonist - changing this around could have allowed the story to go in different directions but instead once again we have parents freaking out over what's happening to their little kid. This'll tug on the heartstrings of anyone who has kids, of course, but it doesn't necessarily make the movie all that unique in terms of plot devices. The movie does make some interesting allegorical connotations in terms of the divorce that the two adult leads are dealing with and this adds some interesting and fairly subtle food for thought to the picture, which helps, but more originality in the depictions of the horrors that the characters go through would have gone a long way.
With that said, the film is an entertaining one with some good, albeit superficial, jump scares and some decent and effective moments of nicely dread filled atmosphere. It is occasionally a case of 'missed opportunity' but what's here will hold the attention of those who enjoy a possession stories even if it doesn't really push the envelope in terms of what's been done before.
The Possession arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 2.40.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Detail is strong throughout the transfer though like a lot of modern horror movies the film makes use of a fairly flat looking color scheme so expect a lot of earth tones and subdued primary colors. Black levels are good and shadow detail is pretty solid while texture is consistently impressive for the duration of the film. Close up shots, like the tight focus on a characters boots, show all the fibers you could expect to see in the laces while facial close ups show good skin tones and lots of pores and stubble and characteristics that make human faces look like human faces. A few of the CGI effects look a little obvious, but that's not really an issue with the transfer, it's simply a case of the digital effects looking like the computer generated creations that they are. There are no problems with noise reduction here nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. There weren't any obvious compression artifacts detected during playback and we get the impression that this is a very accurate representation of how the movie looked theatrically.
The main audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional subtitles provided in English SDH and Spanish. This is quite an impressive track and it definitely makes quite a few of the more active scenes more effective than a 2.0 mix would have. Rear channel activity is common during much of the movie, with the more 'possession-centric' scenes really benefitting from the more open feel that the lossless track provides Dialogue remains strong from start to finish while the score adds plenty of dramatic punch when the movie calls for it. Bass response is strong and tight and helps to anchor key moments of the film without burying any of the more subtle aspects of the mix. All in all, the movie sounds very good on Blu-ray. An optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is provided in Spanish.
Lionsgate have done a pretty good job with the extras on this disc starting with the first of two commentary tracks, a chat with director Ole Bornedal who talks about the inspiration for this film, what it was like working on it, the contributions of the various cast and crew members and quite a bit more. There are definitely spots where Bornedal clams up a little bit so we get spots of dead air here and there which can make this track less than thrilling to listen too, but when he perks up he does provide some interesting information and good observations on what he tried to do with the mood of the film and with the character development in the movie. The second commentary features writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White. Not so surprisingly the focus of this track is on the writing process, on what went into getting the characters right, on the case that inspired the script and on the various little touches that went into getting the story the way that they wanted it. There's some discussion too of the camera work, the contributions of the cast and crew and their thoughts on the finished version of the movie. This second track is considerably more active than the first one and the two writers seem to have more to say about Ole's tendency to keep them involved in the filmmaking process, from the audition process through to the final stages of the production.
There's also a single featurettes here entitled The Real History Of The Dibbuk Box (13:19) which includes interviews with 'former Dibbuk Box owner' Kevin Mannis, current 'Dibbuk Boxowner' Jason Haxton, and Jason's son Ross Haxton. Each of the three talks about their experiences with the box, how it's affected them and how they interacted with it. Some clips and photographs back up their story. It's a fun companion piece to the feature and done fairly well, actually.
Outside of that, look for a trailer for the feature, previews for a few other Lionsgate releases, animated menus and chapter selection. A download code for a digital copy is also included. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.
The Possession isn't a perfect film but it is pretty well made and it does manage to do something a little different with the whole 'possession' angle that's been worked over time and time again since The Exorcist hit box office gold. The film is well acted and nicely shot and if a few of the effects shots don't work as well as you might hope they would and the tendency to rely on horror movie clichés sometimes hurts the movie. This is one that fans of supernatural horror will probably want to see, but not necessarily own. Lionsgate have done a nice job with the Blu-ray release, making this one an easy choice as a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.