Possession is one of the most terrifying staples in the horror genre’s arsenal. Its terror stems from two main sources: firstly, the fear of lack of control over one’s own body, and secondly, the shock of seeing someone you know and love doing bad things. But aside from the visceral discomfort viewers feel from seeing a possessed person, how is possession used in the overall narratives of a work? In other words, what is the point of possession? I think it largely depends on who or what is doing the possessing, and the character development impact that the possession has for the character being possessed.
I’ll examine two notable examples from recent television. For those of us who are somehow still Teen Wolf fans, the latest season, which wrapped up this past week, featured an extensive possession story arc. This season, everyone’s favorite Loyal Best Friend, Stiles, came to the forefront (look at many promotional image for 3B, like the one above; Stiles was literally in the forefront, featured as more central than the Teen Wolf himself, Scott). Stiles was possessed by a malevolent Japanese fox spirit, called a nogitsune. Fox possession may sound strange to Western audiences, but in Japanese mythology, it’s totally a thing. On the other hand, most American media will feature the more familiar demonic possession, exemplified for the purposes of this post by the case of Sister Mary Eunice in 2012’s American Horror Story: Asylum.