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Animadversion: Demon in a box

September 16, 2012

The Possession, the latest of demonic-haunting movies preluding Halloween season, begins with a minor brawl between an old woman and her hammer versus an old box. By now, as opening clinchers go, we know the spectre in the box can take care of little old ladies (or schoolgirls) easy; it’s the daddies who turn ghost busters that pose serious threat.

The ghost-busting daddy in The Possession is Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) — and his most powerful tool is the unflinching resolve of parenthood. Clyde is a school coach separated from his family by divorce. Still on good terms with his ex (Kyra Sedgwick), his court settlement allows him weekends with his two high school daughters. The older, Hannah (Madison Davenport), who we don’t learn much about, is a teen-typical rebel in progress. The younger one, Emily (Natasha Calis), is more hippy and impressionable.

Emily picks up the relatively harmless-looking demon box, or to be more specific a Dybbuk box, out of a nearby garage sale. The box wastes no time in becoming a catalyst to boost the eerie atmosphere of Clyde’s otherwise secluded and dark-looking house (the film sports clever cinematography by Dan Laustsen).

It isn’t long before Emily is taken over by the presence. She starts stuffing herself without swallowing and stabs daddy with a fork when he tells her to slow down. Next, she violently beats up a boy in class who tries to open the bag that she brought the demon box in. When both parents are called by the principal, the mother blames the couple’s separation for Emily’s awkwardness. But mom soon turns believer when a CAT scan captures the demon’s face!

Producer Sam Raimi with The Possession — purportedly based on a true story — works the best of Hellraiser, The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist (with a dash of The Unborn for good measure) into a subtle mix that owes a debt of gratitude to his and co-producer Rob Tapper’s sensibility of horror.

Here, what scares us silly isn’t the cry of evil in the middle of the night, it’s the slow progress of emotional consumption that does the trick. Released by Lionsgate, The Possession is rated PG-13 with a screenplay by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, and Danish director Ole Bornedal. You can’t help but cheer for daddy in this one.

ParaNorman activity

Weird, creepy and undeniably heartfelt, ParaNorman, the stop-motion animation from Laika (Coraline) featuring unappealing character designs, is easier to like even with its awkward first impression.

The Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in ParaNorman is a scrawny boy with doleful eyes and a naturally electrocuted hairstyle. His hair could easily be from a case of fright because Norman can see dead people (yes, the Haley Joel Osment/Sixth Sense kind). However, there’s a divide between Norman’s dead and the ones from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie.

Norman’s dead people don’t walk around like normal people — they float in air and a have glowing green light around them. One of the dead is Norman’s grandma (Elaine Stritch) who sits on the family sofa knitting and watches TV.

Living in the small town which doesn’t take kindly to anything that doesn’t blend, Norman is treated with rolling eyes and a freak-label. Norman’s family, as normal as they can be, wants to remove this stamp off of Norman and so his father (Jeff Garlin) retorts with agitation while his mother (Leslie Mann) deals him kindness, and his sister (Anna Kendrick) strikes back with callousness.

Norman finds a friend in the tubby classmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who has a heart of gold and an unflinching attitude for buddying.

Soon Norman’s personal anguish is left on the side when the ghost of the town’s other weirdo — an estranged uncle (John Goodman), sets Norman on a mission to stop a witch’s curse.

But before Norman can grasp the severity of the situation, a handful of zombies are let loose on the town followed by the curse’s looming resurrection.

With so much happening in the vein of wonderfully, creepy (and unique) Coraline, one cannot help but be gripped by the craftsmanship of directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler (also the film’s writers). Especially to be enjoyed is ParaNorman’s inspiringly executed climax (and excellent soundtrack from Jon Brion, of Magnolia fame). Released by Focus Features, ParaNorman is rated PG. — Farheen Jawaid