Every Wednesday, Calhoun Kersten digs deeper into the canon of horror cinema in The Bloody Truth.
The Possession is the kind of quiet, unassuming and ultimately forgettable horror movie that has become all too common in the modern horror landscape. With no real invention or ingenuity of its own, it relies on the tired tricks of the trade to “scare” its audience. The problem is that the movie itself is tired. The scares prey on what novelty is left in the exorcism subgenre, which is little. Furthermore, the film clings to antiquated notions of the nuclear family that simply don’t exist. More than anything else, the “family” element is one of the biggest faults of a film that desperately tries to make old scares and even older values into something new.
For those unfamiliar with the film, The Possession follows a newly divorced father of two (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he struggles to save his daughter from an ancient evil. While the divorce element of that synopsis may seem like casual description bordering on editorializing, it proves to be a motivating factor in far too many of the film’s turning points. Throughout the movie, or at least judging by the film’s conclusion, we are supposed to root for the man and wife to be reunited to form a happy and stable home for their two children.
The problem is, simply put, The Possession portrays the only redemption from evil as a two-parent home. There are plenty of people who have gone on to live productive and successful lives that don’t come from this environment, but The Possession suggests that this is the only way to ensure one’s safety. This outdated attitude towards divorce is…well, it seriously undermines the film. The Possession is about an ancient evil, invoking tales of Jewish mysticism and demons before reaching its conclusion. However, just because the film is about an antiquated notion of evil, doesn’t mean that the film necessarily needs to apply outdated values to its storytelling.
While horror is, in and of itself, a historically conservative genre, The Possession doesn’t fully commit to this novelty. Films like House of the Devil, set in the 80s, used logos and filming techniques from the time period. The Possession casually sets the scene, but never truly delivers on that front. Aside from its literally ancient villain and tired values, The Possession is very much a product of its time. It makes use of modern special effects and the traditional trappings of a modern horror film. More than anything else, this makes The Possession feel like a jumbled mess of archaic and contemporary in the worst possible way.
The Possession doesn’t simply suffer from its outdated conservatism or its nondescript villain. The film is riddled with problems of pacing and, well, essentially being boring. However, its muddled message about “happy home life” and its seeming praise of the antiquated nuclear family all get in the way of what could have been an otherwise effective horror film. Instead, The Possession remains an uneasy blend of old-school horror in a modern time that has long since abandoned the values so highly regarded in old-school horror.