The Possession: A Film Synopsis
[NOTE: Warning! The following contains the synopsis of the film “The Possession”. That means that it will tell every single detail of the film, including all the twists and spoilers. If you have not seen the film and don’t want anything spoiled, please avoid the following post. If you have not seen the film and don’t want anything spoiled, but still read this anyways, please avoid complaining to me in the comments. You were warned. Thank you and enjoy]
The film opens with a rather plain title card, white words against a black background. In fades the words: “The following is based on a true story. This is what happened to one family over the course of 29 days”.
An overview shot of a neighborhood comes into view. The camera slowly spirals down on one particular house as we hear indistinct murmurs. We cut to the interior of a home and pan across a wall filled with family pictures, most of which seem to be shot in black and white. As the camera pans across this wall, we get a glimpse into the next room, where a woman stands with her back to the camera. The angle changes and, as the murmurs seem to increase, we see that this woman is old, most likely into her grandmothering years, and is distraught. Her gaze is fixated on a well-worn wooden box, sitting on the mantle of her fireplace.
She takes a step forward, reaching for the box, and it thumps, shifting in place. Turning away, the woman walks into the other room and puts a tape into the tape players; swing music begins to fill the house. As she goes to a mirror to regain her composure, we can see that her hair is falling out by the hand-full. Perhaps her aged look is not entirely due to nature’s process…
The woman walks back over to the mantle place with a hammer in hand and a determined look on her face. She removes all other breakable objects around the box as, unbeknownst to her, a car pulls up in her drive way. However, as she draws her arm back to strike, she is suddenly overtaken by an unseen force, which causes her to physically distort, flail, and suffer bodily harm. The driver of the car walks up to the door and, hearing the destructive noises inside, calls out with concern to his elderly mother. When the sound of shattering glass fills the air, he forces his way inside and we hear him call out with dismay.
Cut to another overview of buildings; this time, a gym. Inside, basketball players clad in black and white jerseys practice. The coach shouts motivational suggestions and finally calls a halt to the team’s practice, only to start a new practice technique: invisi-ball. While the team finds this exercise silly, it helps them to unite and work with one another as they cross the court, scoring with a pretend basketball.
Cut to a well-maintained neighborhood lined with old and overgrown trees. A car pulls up along the curb of one house and the coach, Clyde, steps out. He greets his daughter, Hannah, who is, unbeknownst to him, actually greeting her friends on a cell phone’s headset. Embarrassed, he shakes it off and greets his ex-wife, Stephanie, at the door. She immediately berates him for being late, to which he replies “practice ran long”. The two stare at one another for a silent moment and it is clear that this is a long-time argument with them. She finally invites him in and insists that he takes off his shoes at the door.
Inside, Clyde is surprised to find that his office had been cleared out to make way for Stephanie’s jewelry business and is irritated to hear that Stephanie had packed everything away in boxes for him to take with him. It is clear that he still thinks of the space as “his”, while she is quick to point out “it’s not your office anymore”.
Upstairs, youngest daughter, Emily (often referred to as “Em”) is working on a poster. She asks for Clyde’s opinion on slogans for a petition for “Meat-Free Mondays” at her school. While her father jokes about “popularity”, Emily points out that everyone on the planet is “one big family” and “you don’t eat your family, do you”.
We jump to a shot downstairs, where Brett—Stephanie’s current boyfriend –is coming home while Clyde is trying to leave. Clyde makes a joke about the house being a “shoe-free zone” and Brett reveals that he actually gave the sign to Stephanie, quoting a statistic about germs that live on the street. The duo tell Clyde that they are going to a Wagner concert and Clyde makes a sarcastic comment before leaving, promising to have the girls home Sunday after lunch. Stephanie jogs down the front walk after him, reminding him about Emily’s allergies and scolding him to eat healthily when he is with their daughters.
In the car, Clyde chides his eldest daughter over how worried she is about her teeth, reminding her that Brett’s comment about her appearance is linked to his profession as a dentist and that he only wants to make money. Emily comments that they had passed Clyde’s apartment, and Clyde surprises them by taking them to a still-developing neighborhood on the edge of a forest, presenting them with his new home. While Hannah is skeptical, Emily is excited, especially when she sees that there is a doggie-door built in. Begging for a dog doesn’t work immediately, but Clyde makes no promise one way or another.
That night, they order pizza for dinner. Emily suggests inviting Stephanie over for breakfast to see the new house and Hannah points out that their parents, while separated for a year, officially were declared divorced three months ago and there was no way of it happening. While Clyde tries to play things off, Hannah points out that it’s tiring how optimistic her younger sister is. Emily leaves the table and Hannah turns on her father for blaming her over the moment before leaving as well. Later that night, Clyde and Emily share a moment while playing shadow-hand puppets. Clyde joking offers her five dollars to not tell her mother about the pizza and Emily counters “make it $35 and we have a deal”. They dissolve into laughter and bid each other good night. Emily begs her father to leave the door open and, even though he teases her lightly, he complies.
The next day, the trio drive around and come across a garage sale. Pointing out that he still needed dishes, Emily convinces Clyde to pull over. Clyde is more preoccupied with checking his cell phone messages—which include a message from a possible business contact—and allows the girls to look around as he tries to call the person back. While dressing up in old-fashioned clothes, Emily seems to be drawn by a mysterious, antique box. She begs her father for it and he agrees. While bargaining for the price down—an easy feat, since the seller is eager to get whatever sort of cash he can to help cover “a couple of bills” that had suddenly “came up”…yes, he IS the adult son we saw in the opening shot—Emily is fixated on a strange woman dressed in black. As the woman goes into the house, Emily walks alongside the house until she reaches a window. She can see a severely bandaged figure inside and, as their eyes meet, the figure cries out in deep distress, banging on the window until the woman comes to stop her. Alarmed, Emily runs away.
We cut to the new house, where Emily marvels over the carvings in the wooden box while Clyde struggles to assemble a shelving unit. He’s clearly not listening to her, more focusing on the “impossible” instructions than her reminder that he promised to help her open her seemingly seamless box. Even though they agree that whoever made it didn’t want anyone to open it, the rattling sound of objects inside make it clear that it was opened once upon a time. Clyde leaves to take another cell phone call and finally connects with the person he was playing phone-tag with: it’s a business offer in another state, which would mean leaving his old family behind. Despite that fact, he tells the other person that he is very interested in taking the job.
That night, Emily is woken from a dead sleep by an unseen force, which sparks curiosity. She gets up and fetches the box from her desk. As she looks the box over, she accidentally (or was it on purpose? Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn!) finds the way to open the box when the sleeve of her nightshirt gets snagged. Once opened, she marvels at what is inside: various odd trinkets such as a moth, a lock of hair, some teeth, a carved wooden horse, and an old ring, all tucked inside other, smaller box-like compartments. She puts on the ring and goes to back to sleep with the box tucked in with her. The wind has stopped blowing.
In the morning, the box is open once more and she is woken by the screams of her older sister. She and Clyde rush to Hannah’s aid, only to find… a moth. The two sisters are disgusted with the fact that Clyde squishes the moth with a shoe on the sheets and leave, making it clear he isn’t winning any “father of the year” points with them.
Downstairs, Hannah practices a dance routine, using her sister as a judge, but Emily isn’t feeling up to par. Dressed in deep, rich browns, Emily mopes and studies the ring, declaring that she “feels funny” and doesn’t “feel like me”. Hannah tries to give her a pep-talk, telling her that she’d “feel better if [she’d] just stop giving a sh*t”. Emily is clearly unimpressed.
When Clyde drops them back off with their mother, Hannah is quick to rat Clyde out over the pizza, to which he jokingly replies “oh, yes, the new house has pizza trees”. The joke doesn’t spare him from Stephanie’s lecture, including a barbed remark about how he’d take it more serious if Emily was one of his basketball players instead. The fact that Brett is there, making lunch for everyone, rankles Clyde as he gets his boxes of stuff from underneath the stairs. He’s treated to the typical “perfect family” moment as the four sit down for lunch and is reminded how absent he was from his family when they were all together. The audience is treated to a montage of Clyde playing basketball alone and thinking deeply.
The camera cuts to Clyde driving while talking on the phone about his business offer. It is the next weekend, as evidenced by the fact that he now has Hannah and Emily with him. Emily reminds him that Hannah’s dance competition is coming up, but Hannah tries to coolly play it down, saying that their mom will have the whole thing videotaped. Clyde insists that he’ll make it and the conversation turns towards Hannah’s new braces. He’s disgusted with how she sees herself as “disfigured” and insists that she is perfect just the way she is.
Inside, the house is trashed and the girls freeze as something makes noises in the kitchen. A bottle rolls across the floor and Clyde insists that the girls stay back. He slowly makes his way into the kitchen to investigate, only to hear the doggie-door bang open. While Clyde didn’t get a look at what had fled the scene, they blame it on raccoons and all have a good laugh over the moment. That night, he uses screws to secure the doggie-door, but that’s not the end to the night’s mischief. Upstairs, as a creepy voice softly calls Emily’s name, the lid to the box slowly opens on its own.
The next morning, Clyde calls for Emily to come down for breakfast. When he gets no response, he goes up to fetch her and sees her in her room, staring at a little mirror in the lid of the box. In the tarnished mirror, her reflection seems to have demonic, white eyes, but when she turns around, her brown eyes are normal, and she calmly asks “what’s wrong, daddy?”.
Over breakfast, Hannah tells a long-winded story (if you have ever listened to teenagers talk, you know the sort of dialogue used here), which Clyde tunes out. Emily is eating at a rapid pace, immediately stabbing her fork into the next piece of pancake the moment she shoves the previous piece food into her mouth. The fork makes an unpleasant and impactful sound as she stabs each piece, causing Clyde to repeatedly ask her to slow down. When he raises his voice at her, she stabs his hand with the fork. He sends her to her room as she repeatedly cries “I’m sorry, daddy” in a helpless manner.
That night, the lid slowly opens again, and the moth comes to life, crawling out. We see Hannah brushing her teeth as the moth slowly buzzes around in the background, eventually crawling up into her hair. She doesn’t seem to really notice anything is amiss until she opens the mirrored cabinet, revealing a swarm of moths. But that isn’t the worst of it: in Emily’s room, the room is alive with moths, all flying erratically around the room while Emily calmly sits in the middle of her bed, staring at the open box. Clyde rushes in to save her and she seems unresponsive as he carries her out. They call in an exterminator the next day, and, as he takes the girls home, Emily seems unaware of what has happened.
Safely back home, Stephanie calmly makes a sarcastic comment about being “unaware that moths were attracted to pizza and soda”. Not amused, Clyde assures her that everything is being taken care of and offers to make sure that she will no longer receive his email. They find a video file and share a moment… but it only a moment and it quickly passes. Clyde asks if she has noticed anything odd with Emily, which Stephanie quickly dismisses as due to the divorce.
The camera cuts to another basketball practice, where Clyde is completely in his “coaching zone”. Someone reminds him that he is late for Hannah’s performance and the camera cuts to the girls hanging out at home. It’s now night and Clyde calls Hannah to apologize. Hannah quickly passes the phone to Emily in mid-apology and lets her younger sister deal with their father. Much to Clyde’s surprise, Emily quickly changes the conversation and asks if her box is alright. She insists that he doesn’t go anywhere near it or try to mess with it in any way, because she “is the only one allowed to touch it”. When he asks what the “deal is with the box”, she just insists that he doesn’t touch it. Baffled, Clyde immediately goes to the box and looks through all the various trinkets, trying to figure out what the deal was with it.
Next weekend, late at night, Emily stands stock-still in front of the bathroom mirror. She looks at the ring, which has begun to turn the skin blue. Is that staining from the metal getting wet? Or is it something more sinister? Suddenly, she convulses and lets out a choking sound. Clearly frightened and disturbed by this sudden need to retch, she gets out a flashlight and looks into the back of her throat. Two fingers suddenly appear, reaching over the back of her tongue, as if there was someone inside her, trying to escape.
Flash forward to a school day. Emily, dressed in dark and drab clothes, clearly is bored by her assignment. A boy sneakily steals her gym bag, which contains her box. The moment the box is revealed, Emily seems to sense it, and starts to look around wildly. She jumps up out of her seat and rushes over to the boy, loudly insisting that he gives it back to her, even going as far as violently slapping him and going into a convulsion-like temper tantrum. At a parent-principle conference, it is revealed that, even though the divorce was finalized only three months ago, the parents have been separated for over a year. Everything the teacher and principle explain sounds completely out-of-character for Emily, but the parents still blindly blame it all on “insecurities” of the divorce and, while ignoring Clyde’s insistence on how there is something wrong going on, Stephanie leaves with Brett.
That night, as the teacher grades papers, she looks up and notices that Emily left her box at school. While this is odd enough, considering how she previously stated that Emily is terrified to let the box out of her reach, she apparently thinks nothing of this and fetches the box to try and force it open. A strange wind blows through the classroom, slowly growing stronger and stronger, and blood begins to drip from the teacher’s eyes like tears. She tries to leave, but the door slams shut in front of her. Suddenly, she is flung around the room like a rag-doll, slammed into various objects, and finally tossed out the window to her death.
The next day, Clyde has breakfast with Emily to gently break the news to her, but is surprised when she plainly states that she understands her teacher is dead and asks for him to fetch her box from the school for her. This is clearly bizarre, considering Emily was a die-hard fighter for the life of all living things, yet cares more about her box than the death of someone in her every-day life. Clyde asks why the box is so important to her. Emily answers “don’t know. Just is”. When he brings up the subject of her talking to the box, she replies “I do not talk to the box. I talk to my friend” and goes on to explain that her friend—a woman that no one can see—lives in the box. The conversation concludes with Emily asking for more food, saying “she’s still hungry”.
Distraught by this conversation, Clyde takes the box for a long drive and eventually chucks it into a dumpster. At home, Emily suffers from the loss of her box, clearly still attached to it, even though she has no idea where it is, and flies into a rage when her father comes home. Shuddering, shivering, and spitting out violent, spiteful things, Emily is suddenly slapped in the face by an invisible force. Clyde is shocked and surprised, unsure of what just happened, while Emily cries abuse. Hannah, a third party come too late, assumes that Clyde hit her and calls her mother while Clyde races after Emily. Fueled by whatever link she has to the box, Emily runs barefoot through the dark until she finds the dumpster and retrieves her box. Once the box is safe, Emily has a one-sided conversation with the invisible being… a conversation that she loses and which ends with a horde of moths forcing their way down her throat. When Clyde finds her, she is lying unconscious on the ground. He takes her back to his house, where Stephanie, Hannah, and a couple of cops wait for him.
The camera jumps to the hallway of a courthouse. A woman tells Clyde that the judge has temporarily revoked his custody rights and has placed the girls purely in Stephanie’s care. Upset, Clyde insists to Stephanie that she knew him and that he would never hurt their daughters, but she refuses to listen, saying that he destroyed their family and she would not allow him to destroy their daughters.
We see Brett comforting and reassuring Stephanie as she downs a large glass of wine. He suggests that they lighten the mood with some games and movies, but lightly scolds her about the wine in the same breath. When Brett goes outside to get something out of his car, a drably-dressed and rundown-looking Emily suddenly appears behind him. She holds one arm behind her, with the other hand closed in a fist, and stares menacingly at him. Unwilling to be spooked by her, he draws close and insists that she shows him what she has in her hand, sounding less and less friendly as he eventually succumbs to forcing her hand open (frankly, I’d be more worried about what was hidden behind her back!), revealing a tooth from the box. As Brett stands to inspect the tooth in the light, Emily spins away from him and has a moment of possession: her eyes roll to the side, she retches, and something appears to be crawling up her throat and around underneath her skin. When Brett pulls her back around, she has regained control for the moment and insists that he leaves. Brett coldly tells her to get used to him being there.
At the same time all of this is happening, we see that Clyde has gone back and retrieved the box from where he had found the unconscious Emily. He takes it to the university where he works and finds a professor versed in such things to help him understand what the box is. We find out that the box is Polish, made in the 1920s or -30s, and that the inscriptions are written in Hebrew. The carved letters spell out “Dibbuk” and the general gist of the box is that it was used to capture and contain a specific demon plaguing a family. Discouraged by what he has heard, Clyde does his own research online and the audience is treated to a bunch of video clips of various people going through exorcisms. This inspires Clyde to try his own hand at saving his daughter and goes to Stephanie’s home when she’s out at the store. Hannah warns him to leave, but Clyde goes upstairs with a bible and tries to drive the demon out himself. Needless to say, all it does is reaffirm that Emily is, indeed, possessed—she makes the book fly out of his hands and across the room— and ends with Stephanie coming home early to kick him out of the house.
Clyde seeks out a Jewish community (think “Chinatown”, only with more dark cloaks and a prayer horn) to find help and gets in contact with Tzadok Shapir, an iPod-listening gentleman who brings Clyde to his father, Rabbe Shapir. At the Shul, everyone draws back in fright when Clyde shows them the box and for good reason; the box was used to host a demon that looks for an innocent soul to take over, making the host experience visions, voices, and hallucinations created to isolate the host away from his or her family in order for it to gain life. While Rabbe Shapir refuses to help, Tzadok promises to do what he can.
That night, Stephanie works on her jewelry as the wind blows loudly… and then stops. Curiously, she decides to get up, seeking a faint cry that send her all around the downstairs of her home, and finally to the kitchen. As the crying gets louder and occasionally sounding animalistic, she suddenly finds Emily on all fours, eating and wailing. She softly calls out and, at the sound of her mother’s voice, Emily spins around, a raw steak in her mouth. Emily growls and scrambles behind the table as her mother continues to call out to her, prompting her to push various glass and ceramic objects onto the floor to force Stephanie to go away. When pushed, Emily screams in a demonic voice, “Em’s not here” and howls fiercely. Scared now, Stephanie manages to make her way around the table, looking for the hidden Emily. As she slowly backs out of the room, a shadowy figure slowly rises up and pounces, screaming, just as Stephanie turns around… only for her to catch the leaping Emily in her arms. With her daughter safe in her arms, Stephanie sinks to the floor as Emily asks in a tearful voice, “who am I?”
Later that night, Brett helps to pull the shards from Stephanie’s foot as she tells him about the incident. He suggests that they take Emily to see someone and offers to take everyone to a facility the next day for a “vacation”.
The next morning, Emily watches Brett as he washes the front windshield of his car. An eerie whispering starts and, as Brett slowly approaches the creepy-looking Emily, the wind begins to whip up. Blood dribbles down his chin and Brett realizes that his teeth have disappeared in a bloody mess. Terrified, he takes off in the car, leaving Emily on the lawn to collapse into convulsions. As Hannah looks over her sister, a moth flies out of Emily’s mouth.
Clyde and Tzadok drive to Stephanie’s home, talking about how the ceremony must go. Tzadok points out that they must call the demon by name and breaks the mirror in the box’s lid to find three symbols carved there: Abyzou.
Stephanie and Hannah have taken Emily to the hospital, where Emily undergoes an MRI. As the procedure begins, the lights flicker and the computer screens begin to short; this is all quickly dismissed as “interference”. Hannah is watching the screen, though, and notices that there is a figure resting within her younger sister. Even Stephanie can see it and the duo fixate on the figure, which movies on the screen, even as the lights flicker and go off. Hannah screams and the face on the screen screams silently back at her as Stephanie rushes in to pull Emily out. Finally willing to believe that something is truly wrong, Stephanie allows Clyde to bring Tzadok in, and the entire family heads down into the hospital’s physical therapy room for privacy during the exorcism.
The family each puts some personal item into the box for strength of the entire family. Tzadok puts his grandfather’s pocket watch, Stephanie puts in a treasured family photo, Hannah puts in a lock of her hair, and Clyde puts in his wedding ring. During the exorcism, Clyde begs the demon to take him instead as they try to force it out of Emily, but Emily reaches up and chokes Tzadok, using the chaos of the moment to escape. Clyde chases after her into a morgue and is attacked by the demon, who uses Emily’s voice to repeatedly sob “daddy, you scared me” (frankly, the “crying” sounds a lot like an evil laugh, which is pretty on par with the demonic doll-like way Emily repeats her phrase). The lights go out and the demon jumps down from the ceiling to maul Clyde.
We get a shot of the rest of the family running through the halls, finally catching up with Clyde and normal-seeming Emily. Tzadok worries that things are “not right” and questions where the demon disappeared to while the family joins together as one. He begins to chant the demon’s name to call it out and Clyde suddenly goes limp, his hand falling to the side. The family pulls away from Clyde as his eyes roll back and he is dragged backwards to the far wall.
[NOTE: those with sensitivity to strobe lights/ rapid-flicking lights, this would be a good time to skip ahead on the DVD. These next scenes are pretty rough, especially when watched in a dark or ill-lit room]
As Tzadok continues with the exorcism, the lights flick on and off. In a strobe-like effect, we see the demon’s hand come out of Clyde’s mouth, pulling the rest of the demon up and out of his body. Tzadok slides the box across the floor and the lid opens on its own. A pale and deathly-looking creature drag/ crawls its way across the floor, making its way towards the box (and, thusly, the screen). Moths flutter around it in the air as it comes close and closer to the screen. For a brief moment, the audience is treated to a close-up of the creature with gummy eyes, a skeletal nose, and a toothlessly gaping maw as the lights flicker (undoubtedly extremely impressive on a 40 foot screen) before it is sucked into the box.
Slowly, Emily approaches her father, afraid that he is dead, and joyfully collapses on top of him as he wakes up. The entire family embraces as Tzadok stoically picks up the antique ring and places his shawl over the box before collecting it from the floor.
The next morning, Stephanie wakes up and checks on the girls. It is apparent that the family slept together in the living room, unwilling to separate for the night in light of what had happened. She walks to the kitchen and finds Clyde cooking breakfast. They shared a whispered “hello” and an embrace. Things are now patched up and the family is back together. All ends well as we get a shot of the “perfect family” sitting down for a meal, superimposed with a phone call shared between Clyde and Tzadok. Tzadok is driving back to his community with the box to hide the box away safely.
And everyone lived happily ever after.
As Tzadok is driving along, a semi comes from the left side of the screen and plows into him, destroying the car and (supposedly) killing him. As people come to see what happened and how they can help, the camera slowly pulls back and reveals the box, far from the crash site and unharmed. A curious jogger draws close.
The screen fades to black.