I LOVE possession stories in books as well as in horror movies, especially those that dabble with science because obviously in real life, most if not all cases of possession can be explained by modern science, especially psychology but in fiction, it can always be mixed up with a “but is it really just in your mind?” (cue Twilight Zone-music).
So, for the following list, I tried to put together a list of movies about possessions that are tackled as scientific phenomenons, manipulations that only need to be uncovered or other quite natural explanations. Of course, they all go awry because a fake exorcism is just super sad and depressing and reminds you of the atrocities of the catholic church but a real exorcism at least has some spoopy demon faces.
It’s one of my favourite sub-genres of horror, so if you have recommendations, I will be very happy to receive them in the comments.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
This movie is such a great character study. It starts with the story of a former child reverend/wunder-priest who made his living with exorcisms and miracles despite knowing that it was all humbug. On his last exorcism, he wants to proof – together with a camera team – how he works his “magic” and what’s actually behind it. Of course, his last case goes horribly wrong, muahaha!
This movie has several assets: First, it has Patrick Fabian who is amazing in his reverend-persona and as cynical non-believer. Second, it has Ashley Bell who doesn’t even need special effects to contort her body into demon-like figures that will truly haunt you. Third: it has – despite the well-trodden path of the plot – a smart story that keeps you interested throughout.
I also would like to point of Caleb Landry Jones who is super menacing as the possessed girl’s brother and one hell of a musician (although he hasn’t done any music since ages, as far as I know).
The Quiet Ones (2014)
Directed by John Pogue and based on a story by Tom de Ville (who also wrote on the script for “The Hallow” which is a pretty amazing fairy tale-like creature feature) this movie is quite typical: scientific experiment goes wrong because of the hubris of scientists.
It’s basically about a professor (Jared Harris) trying to find a therapy to cure “possessions” which he believes to be conjured by the mind of the possessed. Together with a rag tag team of young and sexy students he tries to cure Jane, a young girl with a dark secret …
The movie plays in the 70s when psychological experiments on humans were still a cool thing to do – just like smoking in hospitals. It’s told from the POV of a young student (played by Sam “Hunger Games-hunk” Claflin) but mainly is carried by Harris who is a lovely arrogant and obsessed scientist with some secrets on his own (you may know him as Lane Pryce from “Mad Men”). Harris, by the way, is one of those actors whose face directors of period pieces apparently love. He played the king in “The Crown”, he currently plays a captain in the tv adaption of Dan Simmons historical horror novel “The Terror” and he also played Moriarty in the Robert Downey Jr. version of “Sherlock Holmes” (personally, I prefer “Elementary” but only because the movies were to action-heavy for my taste and the Cumberbatch-series is too Cumberbatch-heavy).
Apartment 143 (2012)
This movie is great because it treats possession from the actually known psychological reasons for supposed cases of possession like trauma, abuse and the weird things that teenage girls apparently can do during puberty.
As usual with these movies, the trailer makes it appear a lot sleazier than it actually is. The movie is rather subdued and more of a calm, almost pragmatic dissection of a team of scientists working on a possession case, trying to find out what is behind the haunting of the White family’ and especially their daughter after the mother died.
*That’s their name, even though they are, admittedly, also all white.
Again, this is a movie that takes its time and might be boring for people who prefer a lot of special effects, scares and monster-make-up over storytelling and -building.
As mentioned before in other lists, I like slow-burners and therefore really like this movie.
The Atticus Institute (2015)
As “The Quiet Ones”, this movie also plays in the 70s, this time in America and in a proper institute helmed by Dr. Henry West (William Mapother) trying to find proof that supernatural abilities are real. In a way, it’s the opposite story of “The Quiet Ones”, where the Professor tries to disprove supernatural causes, so it would be a nice double-feature to watch back-to-back.
In this case, the team has picked yet another possessed woman (it’s always women, by the way, and male investigators, have you noticed that? There’s a film study’s thesis waiting for you). Now, Rya Kihlstedt is amazing as the possessed. She was also the mermaid in the best mermaid horror movie I know, and she still is an amazing creepy lady. I love and adore her in this movie and hope you do to (depressing side-note: on her wikipedia-page it says that she is mostly known for ” co-starring in the 1997 comedy film ‘Home Alone 3′” – let’s make sure that that changes, please, she’s too good for this being her peak appearance).
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
This movie is amazing, super creepy, haunting, moving and one of the best horror movies in the genre of found footage / mockumentary and “old creepy people“. I know that recently, everyone got incredibly hyped about “Relic” which was quite the moody tour de force and I think that Deborah Logan is a great counter piece – it’s a little less symbolic and abstract but has the same mood, especially the way it quite sensibly handles the tragedy of losing someone to dementia which can sometimes be like you’re living with a stranger.
The movie is about a film crew covering a case of dementia and documenting the life of the patient (the titular Deborah Logan) and her daughter who live alone in the same house. It’s a tour-de-force acting- and plotwise and is scary as hell. Highly recommended.
A team of Vatican specialists travel to a remote church in West Country in Great Britain that apparently is being haunted. The local father has video footage of weird things going on but the Vatican specialists suspect that he tampered with the evidence. Are they right or is there something more sinister hiding in that church?
THIS movie. It’s another found footage movie and on the lower budget side, it takes a bit to really get going but when it does … I don’t want to spoil anything but I really loved it. LOVED IT!
Also, I actually would recommend not watching the trailer because it has a high spoiler energy.