Possession movies are not necessarily my thing. Sure, there are some good ones – The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism, etc. – but they just don’t terrify me. Maybe it’s because I was raised by an agnostic mother who prays to her brothers (living) when something goes wrong, and a father who rejected his Catholic upbringing for a more ‘there’s probably a god, but I’m not going to church’ approach to religion. And although I dabbled in Christianity myself in my early teens, I gave up magical thinking altogether a long time ago. But that doesn’t fully explain my apathy (mild apathy) toward possession films. I mean, I don’t believe in monsters or ghosts either, but there are plenty of those in my favorite films. Whatever the reason, a possession movie has a big hurdle to jump right out of the gate with me. It’s not an impossible hurdle. But it’s not insignificant either. So, keep that in mind as you read this review of The Possession Experiment.
Brandon is the only guy in his community college (at least i think it’s a cc) Intro to Religion class who gives a shit. He asks and answers questions and does the homework. Unlike most of the other students, who don’t even give a shit about medieval torture in the name of the church (a subject that is objectively interesting). So, when it’s time to do a big project, Brandon decides to do a documentary on possession. Clay, the class stoner / slacker, convinces Brandon to partner with him by promising to get him high. The two research a case in which the exorcism of a local woman went awry, leaving several people dead and her baby orphaned. The guys find a ouija board hidden at the site of that exorcism, so Brandon decides to offer up his own body for possession and they document the whole thing on live-streaming video. Everything goes swimmingly. I’m kidding!
The Possession Experiment definitely didn’t quite get over that hurdle (see above). There are some solid scares to be had, for sure. For example, the flashbacks to the possessed woman are gritty and unnerving. And the flashlight lit exploration of the creepy old house is tense. But there are a lot of cliched possession movie tropes as well – floating, snarling bodies, black eyeballs, puking, etc. Those tropes in a well-written movie can be forgiven. Unfortunately, The Possession Experiment isn’t all that well written. For every familiar trope, there’s a head-scratcher that the viewer is expected to take in stride. Brandon fashions a weird weapon out of some art supplies (at least i think they were art supplies, it wasn’t established beforehand) and uses it to kill a jerk and then some random students. Is this something that possessed people do? And can possessed people also cause the non-possessed people around them to behave like puppets to do things against their wills? Because that happens in this film. It even works for people who aren’t physically nearby but connected via video chat. (that’s handy) The whole ouija board discovery and hamsa (you know, that yoga palm thing) icon seems very left field as well. Who put that board in the wall, boarded it up, and painted that hamsa? Certainly, not the priests (they are Catholic after all). And are we to assume that the possessed woman was fooling around with that ancient looking ouija board when she got possessed? If we are, where does the shadowy satanic cult who are now intervening in Brandon’s case fit in? (did i forget to mention there’s a shadowy satanic cult?) Did they give her the board and convince her to conjure a demon into her body? It’s fine for a movie to build its own mythology (encouraged even!), but there has to be a way to get buy-in from the audience. If your film is completely novel mythology-wise, then you can throw us right into it. But when your film is built upon a very familiar premise, you’re going to have to do some work to get everyone on the same page. And The Possession Experiment just doesn’t do that.
The Final Cut: Despite some creepy shots and moments of genuine anxiety, The Possession Experiment fails to build a cohesive story. Instead, it delivers plenty of tired possession tropes and far too many confusing or unmotivated plot contrivances.