"The Possession" is proof a movie can be scary without having to resort to an onslaught of blood, guts and profanity that would earn it an R rating. Director Ole Bornedal gets the maximum chills from gloomy weather, a foreboding soundtrack, lighting trickery, decent special effects and acting performances that sell each startle while still coming in with a PG-13 rating.
It's shocking the film was produced by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, who helped ramp up horror film violence with "Evil Dead." The restraint they showed should open up "Possession" to a larger audience.
It starts with a cautionary tale: You never know what you're going to get from a yard sale. When Em (Natasha Calis) buys a weird box, her divorced parents -- Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) -- plus her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) soon realize the box was no bargain. It holds an evil spirit that begins to take over Em.
The film tries to walk the line of reality by presenting parental parting as a possible catalyst for Em's odd ways. But eventually the family realizes drastic measures are needed to save the young girl.
Morgan continues to show his versatility. He's gone from the outlandish superhero Comedian in "Watchmen" to the suave night club owner in "Magic City" to this believable father. His performance helps make the film work.
Then there is Davenport. She turns in one of the strongest performances by a young woman in a horror film since Linda Blair tossed her pea soup in "The Exorcist." She can sell a scene -- from fear to joy -- with just her eyes.
Despite being consistently scary, the movie has some flaws. Clyde makes a huge leap from thinking his daughter has mental problems to needing an exorcist without any real cause. Then there's Bornedal's odd obsession with aerial shots, which he tosses in so often that there are times you think you are looking at Google Maps.
These flaws can be forgiven because the cast and crew come together to make a movie that tries to scare rather than gross out the audience. It's easy to get a reaction when the next victim is slogging through the intestines of the previous murder. Working to scare takes more courage and skill.
"The Possession," rated PG-13 for language, scary images. Stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis. Directed by Ole Bornedal. Running time: 91 minutes. Grade: B | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.