Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head, roll aside — you’re no longer the scariest item contained in a box.
“The Possession,” produced by Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Productions team, is now in theaters, introducing moviegoers to a whole new form of terror — actually, it’s an entity that’s quite old, really. Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars in the film as Clyde Brenek, a successful high school basketball coach trying unsuccessfully to connect with his children in the middle of a terrible divorce. When Clyde’s daughter Em (Natasha Calis) purchases an ancient box at a yard sale, an evil force of old Jewish lore comes into her life, threatening to ruin everything that Clyde holds dear.
A haunting tale inspired by the true story of one man’s encounter with a Dybbuk box, “The Possession” sets out to familiarize audiences with a deep-rooted demon that’s strayed away from the pop culture spotlight in recent years. MTV News spoke with Raimi all about the horror of “The Possession” and why he finds the concept so frighteningly real.
MTV: We’ve seen possessions pop up in a lot of the horror films you’ve been involved in, from “Evil Dead” to “Drag Me to Hell.” What fascinates you so much about that aspect of the supernatural?
Sam Raimi: What’s so possible is what I find so interesting about it. When you’re infected by a virus, it really is a possession. It’s a bit of floating RNA that splices itself into your DNA and it’s telling your body to do something without you knowing it. It’s telling your body to reproduce itself until there are more of them. It takes control. That’s exactly what happens. Only when your body starts to feel so crummy do you realize you’ve got the flu. Basically, it’s another life-form inhabiting you. It’s a possession. It’s so possible, that I think it really could [exist]. There are so many similar things in our world like it right now. We know about intelligence hijackings from computer hackers who can take over your computer. We know about completely physical hijackings, like the virus I was telling you about. I really believe it’s completely within the realm of possibility. It’s terrifying to me. That’s why I’m so interested in it. It seems so possible.
MTV: What interested you about the Dybbuk myth in particular? That’s not an antagonist you see a whole lot of in film these days.
Raimi: I had read Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Tenth Man.” It was really scary. That was the only piece I had read about a Dybbuk, the demon of Jewish lore, in a story. When I read this Los Angeles Times article that was written by Leslie Gornstein called “Jinx in a Box,” I thought it was really scary. I’m Jewish, but I hadn’t much thought about what my religion believes as far as the supernatural. All I’d seen were really dramatized films like “The Exorcist” or “The Omen,” which are more or less based on the New Testament. This is an Old Testament demon, which is very scary to me. Part of me was curious, part of me thought it was very original. Reading the website for the Dybbuk box, it was just terrifying. It seemed like it was real.
MTV: “The Possession” has a terrific cast, but Natasha Calis in particular is phenomenal as Emily. She really embodies everything about what this character ends up going through. What was the casting process like, finding her for the role?
Raimi: Our director, Ole Bornedal, worked really hard to find the most original and unique talent that he could. He’s a very gifted director; if you’ve ever seen his film “The Substitute” then you know he’s a great director of children, and of actors in general. I counted on him to find the best cast, and he did. He found Natasha, he found Matisyahu — a very unusual choice to play the rabbi — and he followed his instinct. I tried to support him the best I could.
But I fell in love with [Calis’ performance]. She’s the best young actor at that age that I’ve seen in a picture all year, actually. Even though this is a horror film, I haven’t seen a performance equal to that one from somebody her age. I’d give her my Kid Academy Award if I could. [Laughs] Once I saw how good she was in the dailies, I tried to bring her on board a film that I was making, “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” But we had some immigration problems because she’s Canadian, so we couldn’t make it work.
MTV: Well, for your next film, you need to find a role for her!
Raimi: I’m already thinking of one!
MTV: The film is self-contained, but the ending leaves open the possibility of further stories to be told in the “Possession” universe. Do you see it that way?
Raimi: There are so many tales of the original Dybbuk box that never made it to the screen in this version. It’s really out there, that thing. People do have so many stories. Ghost House Pictures has gone ahead and purchased the rights to their stories to make into a film, so [a sequel is] possible. But I think it will all depend on if Ole Bornedal was interested, and if a very meaningful screenplay could be written from the remaining materials.
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Possession.”