What’s Up, Box?
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Playing at UK cinemas now
Wow. They never turn the lights on in these kinds of movies, do they?
That’s always been one of the first rules of the horror genre, of course, but these days they usually don’t just rely on people kinda forgetting to turn the lights on. There’s usually a reason to have the dimly lit room to navigate through.
To be fair, The Possession, which is actually a pretty entertaining film as it happens, does provide more on-screen explanations towards the end of the film when the supernatural element, which is out in the open from the start, is more apparent to the main protagonist. Lots of demon activated flickering lights etc. But for a lot of the early film the lighting schemes in the new house which the father character, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, moves into and takes his two teenage daughters to when he has visiting rights as a divorced parent, do tend to draw attention to themselves in the most surprising manner. You will find yourself wondering why the heck nobody ever thinks to turn on a light.
The film as a whole, in fact, is a pretty obvious one and you will find yourself struggling to find anything actually surprising or unexpected about it. Again, though, to be fair to the film-makers, the horror genre is a notoriously easy genre to decode and there’s not really a great deal of surprise to be had from them since the late 1930s. This is why the genre is so easy to cross breed with other genres like comedy or science-fiction... the rules are always so simple.
So, yeah, The Possession, a film about a girl who buys a dybbuk box with a demon lurking inside it and possessing her is more than just a little predictable... but this doesn’t stop those unsurprising scares from being fairly effective. Just because you know something’s coming, it doesn’t make it any less potent and this film in general is very gutsy in that it takes some very broad, less than subtle strokes to tell its tale of creeping, insidious horror. Even when the movie turns into a kind of Jewish themed version of The Exorcist in the last third... you’ll figure out just what is going to happen between the father and his daughter but the CGI effect used to enhance this sequence is full of strobe-lit scary creature goodness. The final fate of the Jewish exorcist guy and “the box” is also something you’ll see coming a mile off... but they have to leave these kinds of films open for some kind of sequel, don’t they?
The movie is greatly aided by a score by Anton Sanko which is even less subtle than the movie itself... but I mean that in the most complimentary way. It’s scored in the same way that John WIlliams might score a horror movie, everything’s very bold with some major “stings” which are so heavy handed “in the mix” that Bernard Herrmann might even have been proud of them. “In the mix” is definitely the key phrase here though because it’s been ages since I’ve heard a score which was so heavily mixed into the foreground (and wasn’t in a Doctor Who episode). It’s put together like a 1950s movie in terms of the way the music is deferred to on everything... and that’s just great in my book. I suspect the composer might have brought everything down a notch and written some more complex passages if he’d realised his work wasn’t just going to be buried underneath the sound effects in much the same way that most other directors treat the work of their composers... but I’m glad he didn’t. It’s a score I’d very much like to listen to away from the movie in CD form but I suspect there’s fat chance of a stand alone soundtrack album getting released for a movie like this. Rather a shame, actually. Maybe one of the more obscure labels will be able to rescue it some day.
So what we have here, when all is said and watched, is a charming little horror movie which is extremely clichéd and predictable but which, at the same time, doesn’t allow the lack of surprise to get in its way. It’s well shot and lit (even if you do want to shout at them to turn the lights on a little bit) and the girl playing the character of Emily, Natasha Calis, does the role so well that you will really feel it when she starts piling on the pressure. And as for Jeffrey Dean Morgan... well, frankly, I could watch him in anything. One of those rare actors with real screen presence. He doesn’t do a lot more than stand around half the time in this... but he does it so well and with such weight, that you can’t help but admire the guy. Hope he gets a lot more high profile work... he deserves it.
So, this is pretty much a glowing recommendation from me for older fans of horror movies, I think. I suspect the youngsters watching this one might find it a little too heavy handed compared to their usual splatter movies (this one goes in more for surrealistic touches than full on goriness) but I think the older horror hounds, the ones who can appreciate a good old Universal monster movie or a Val Lewton psychological horror might well have a better time with this one. Give it a whirl if you are a fan of the history of the horror genre.