The 10 Most Common Demonic Possession Horror Tropes (And The Movies That Subvert Them) | Pretty Reel

Demonic Possession movies haven’t had a good movie in a few years, with My Best Friend’s Exorcism on Amazon being the newest and not getting the most positive reviews. But while there aren’t any great possession movies lately, there are some great movies from years past.

There are many popular tropes in these films of demonic possession, from priests performing exorcisms to entire families being haunted, and they’ve been iconic aspects of the genre, made popular by classics like The Exorcist. However, there are also movies that subvert these traditional tropes, defying viewers’ expectations and taking things in a new direction.

An Innocent is Possessed – The Shining (1980)

One of the most common possession tropes in these movies is an innocent, like a child or an elderly person, being overtaken by the forces of evil. The Exorcist is one of the most popular movies that popularized this iconic trope.

In The Shining, however, Jack Torrance’s possession is far from an innocent victim. While viewers may pity his young son, Danny, who is also being tortured by ghosts, Jack is the one consumed by evil. But he has been violent towards his family in the past and tends to put his job and himself before his family, which makes him a less innocent victim of possession.

It’s the Devil – Sinister (2012)

One of the most popular tropes of possession movies is the devil himself literally possessing the victim. However, Sinister focuses on a supernatural entity that isn’t actually a devil, or even clearly a demon, but rather an evil entity.

This film subverts the expectation of great evil like the devil taking control of an innocent to torment him. On the contrary, the entity in this film is quite mysterious and far more specific than other possessions. Instead of simply possessing children to harm them, this demon focuses on using one child to destroy their entire family.

A priest performs an exorcism – The Conjuring (2013)

Hollywood popularized the use of an exorcist in demonic possessions, particularly in the cult classic The Exorcist. A priest is brought in in many of these possession films, including a few films from The Conjuring film franchise.

However, The Conjuring’s exorcism scene featured Ed Warren performing the exorcism in place of a priest. The Conjuring creates fear without the gore, and this scene is one of those moments that are iconically scary without being too over the top. This film is able to use the exorcism trope while giving it a unique twist.

A Tormented Family – Night of the Demons (1988)

Night of the Demons is one of the best demon horror movies out there, but it doesn’t follow all of the tropes associated with demons. While these possession films often focus on the torment of a family caused by the possession of a loved one, this film takes a much different approach.

In it, a group of teenagers gather in an abandoned house for a night of Halloween fun when they are suddenly terrorized by demon possession. While this film still focuses on possession and torment, it isn’t as personal as many other demonic possession tropes.

An Expert Is Called – The Evil Dead (1981)

One of the most common tropes in a possession movie is that the victims bring in an expert to help them solve their problem. This is popular in many films, and the focus is on The Conjuring franchise in which Ed and Lorraine Warren are major contributors to nearly every possession.

The Evil Dead, however, brings new meaning to demonic possession. By combining the “cabin in the woods” trope, this film is able to deviate from the traditional expectations of viewers. Without access to an expert for help, these characters are left to fight evil on their own.

The possessed are tortured – Insidious (2010)

Many possession films feature the victim of the demonic suffering from the forces of evil. They are often afflicted by external and internal forces created by the evil entity to torment them and break their spirit.

Insidious follows many of these traditional demon tropes, but Dalton isn’t actually tortured by the demon. He is actually the cause of his problems as he is unaware that he can astral project himself and gets stuck in the spirit world of the dead. Although he is suffering in the alternate dimension, the evil entity intends to take over his body, not to torment him personally.

A Demon Who Speaks in Tongues – Annabelle (2014)

A common theme in demonic possession is when the possessed person begins to speak in an unfamiliar language. It is often an uncommon language, such as Latin, which is considered an offense to priests and to Christianity.

However, while Annabelle is one of modern horror’s most terrifying demonic possession films, it doesn’t use this trope. Although a possessed object is a common tool in these films, the film does not use the overused trope of unusual languages.

The Dog Dies – The Amityville Horror (1979)

A particularly cruel and less obvious trope in these possession movies is the death of the family pet. This has been seen in several movies, including The Conjuring and the Amityville Horror remake.

However, the original Amityville Horror movie chose not to kill the dog. In fact, that dog, Harry, actually played a part in saving the day. This trope seems to be largely overlooked as the dog is usually just the first sign of trouble, but viewers actually appreciate it when the film turns against that tradition and the dog survives with the rest of the family.

A Focus on Christianity – Possession (2012)

Many demonic possession films have a strong focus on Christianity. This is often due to the fight between good and evil, often represented by the use of the devil or a demon against a priest using faith as a means to fight dark forces.

The Possession is one of the best possession movies because it follows traditional themes while subverting some expectations. Instead of Christianity, this film focuses on Judaism and uses Hebrew culture and myths to develop a story similar to traditional devil possession.

The Demon is Kicked Out – Hereditary (2018)

The most common ending in demonic possession movies is when the victims finally gain the upper hand and drive the demon out. This leaves viewers convinced that after a long fight against the forces of evil, good will eventually prevail.

Hereditary actually subverts that tradition, leaving the story on a more mysterious and ominous note. This film follows similar dark themes associated with stories of demonic possession, but the ending is far less satisfying in terms of defeating evil and allowing the innocent to get a happy ending.

The 10 Most Common Demonic Possession Horror Tropes (And The Movies That Subvert Them) | Pretty Reel