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Sam Raimi and Danish director Ole Bornedal unleash new movie ‘The Possession’ starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick into theaters on August 31. The film’s climactic exorcism scene was shot at a particularly haunting location: the abandoned Riverview Mental Institution, whose dilapidated buildings — once rife with paranoia, fear and grim treatments — still stand in Coquitiam, British Columbia. Built in 1913 and closed 70 years later, the buildings left behind are renowned for their instantly chilling atmosphere.
“Riverview has its own history of odd occurrences,” notes location manager Terry Mackay. “There’s a feeling inside that is otherworldly, and because it’s been vacant for so long, you have the sense of spirits or some kind of pre sence always there. I think it heightened all of our senses to film in there.”
Cast and crew were on edge on this set, with some even refusing to enter rooms that seemed to be especially cold or oddly forbidding. But for screenwriters Julia Snowden and Stiles White nothing could have been more thrilling than to see such an organically scary place become home to their high-tension scene. “There was a double eeriness to shooting in a location that people already say is haunted,” muses White. “There were multiple layers of horror and weirdness. Along with the screaming and flashing lights of the scene, I have to admit, after watching the day of shooting, I had trouble getting to sleep that night.”
Other locations also seemed to fall under the film’s spell – one even burned to the ground (under circumstances that had nothing to do with the production) before shooting began. Production designer Rachel O’Toole added further touches of fright and foreboding to rooms that might seem ordinary but are filled with subtle, symbolic touches and the ability to shift into the nightmarish at any moment.
Also adding to the contrasting atmosphere between family life and the hellish pursuit of a voracious demon is the work of cinematographer Dan Laustsen, who plays with light and shade throughout the film, breaking the usual rules. “Scary doesn’t always take place in pitch black,” Laustsen notes. “Some of the scariest things in our movie take place in bright light.”