Lionsgate’s horror film The Possession, which stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Kyra Sedgwick (TNT’s The Closer) and newcomer Natasha Calis (NBC’s The Firm), offers an interesting twist on the “child possessed by demon” subgenre. Produced by Sam Raimi, the film is loosely based on true events, specifically those surrounding the haunted “Dybbuk box” sold on eBay in 2001, which allegedly brought misfortune and suffering to each of its owners.
At Comic-Con International, director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch), Morgan and Calis sat down with reporters to discuss Raimi, horror and the dangers of owning a Dybbuk box.
Because the film hinges on audiences believing a 13-year-old girl is possessed by a demon, Morgan confessed that, despite liking the script, he was initially hesitant to sign on. “You’re asking a young actress for so much and it’s so hard to do, and if it doesn’t work it really doesn’t work and the whole movie is a piece of crap,” he said, admitting he changed his mind once Bornedal sent him Calis’ audition. “I immediately called Ole and said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it. I’m in.’”
“After 30 seconds, I knew it was her,” Bornedal said. “I stopped the camera and I called the studio and said, ‘It’s Natasha Calis.’
Calis admitted she enjoyed the physical demands of portraying a possessed girl. “I had a lot of fun doing all my stunts,” she said. “That’s what I love to do. I love to do all that action and everything.”
“You’re like Tom Cruise,” Morgan teased.
“I want to do lots of like gun sequences and knife-throwing and whatnot.” Calis replied.
“That’s my little girl,” Morgan said proudly.
Known for playing dead and dying characters, Morgan admitted to filling the role of prankster on set to keep the mood light for Calis and Madison Davenport, who portrays his other daughter. “The scenes were intense,” he said. “The exorcism scenes, those were some really heavy days, especially for Natasha, who, you know, had a demon living inside her.”
“There were a couple moments that she scared the crap out of me and I was worried about her,” he continued. “I didn’t want her to – I thought she was going to explode. She really did an amazing job.”
“I lost my voice quite a few times during filming,” Calis admitted.
Although Bornedal didn’t see much of producer Raimi on set, he was grateful to the genre legend for his knowledge and understanding of the filmmaking process. “Every time I came with my wish list of things that needed to be done in order to create real characters there up on the screen, he understood exactly what I was talking about,” the director said.
When asked about the Dybbuk box and the Los Angeles Times article that inspired the film, Bornedal said he’s ashamed he declined an invitation to meet the owners of the allegedly haunted cabinet. “I didn’t want to go there,” he said. “I didn’t want to dive too deep into this because it’s just a question of what kind of energy do you want to lean up against.”
Just like the owners of the actual Dybbuk box, the production was plagued by some spooky occurrences, which included exploding light bulbs and a mysterious fire. “After we wrapped the film, the storage house that had all of our props – including the Dybbuk box – burned down to the ashes in Vancouver,” Bornedal said. “Of course, it’s a funny story, but then again, you can put value on it if you want to and I don’t know – perhaps the producers just burned it down for marketing reasons.”
Morgan called The Possession a throwback to the horror films of the early 1970s. “I think the stuff that we see now in this genre is a lot of ‘found footage’ and shaky camera – and look – that drives me crazy,” he said. “That’s not the movie that I certainly wanted to go in and make. This really had a story.”
Bornedal, who called his approach “Woody Allen meets Tobe Hooper,” made a conscious choice to avoid CGI effects whenever possible, and to search for the humanity of the characters – even when they were being possessed by demons. “There are so many films out there that are only going for the scare or the cruelty or the blood or the gore or whatever and I actually dislike watching films like that,” he explained. “I grew up with Repulsion by Polanski or The Tenant, old Hitchcock movies. I love Poltergeist, the original Exorcist, and the reason why these films still stand out is because it’s real people up there.”
The Possession opens Aug. 31.