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The real-life owners of the Dibbuk Box, which is at the center of new Sam Raimi horror exploration ‘The Possession’ recounted many horrors – among them gruesome insect manifestations involving scorpions and cockroaches. When director Ole Bornedal came aboard ‘The Possession’ he made the decision to focus on an insect less commonly seen on film: the hypnotic and spooky moth. “Moths are weirder and more ancient than most insects and they seem to have something supernatural about them,” the director explains.
“The eerie flutter of their wings, the way they unexpectedly brush against your skin, it’s chilling.” And accordingly, Bornedal made a decision that would shock everyone on set – the decision use live moths for the pivotal scene. He explains, “Having actors act against the feeling of having real moths crawling on your face and your body, you can’t fake that.”
Adds producer J.R. Young: “When we saw Ole’s vision of these huge moths, it was something we’d never seen in a horror movie before. It was very fresh.”
The film’s big moth scene called for a staggering 2000 insects to invade Em’s new bedroom in her father’s house. In order for the moths to be ready for the sequence, they had to be shipped to the set as larvae and hatched on location. Overseeing the process was another unusual addition to the crew: Moth Wrangler Brad MacDonald.
Says producer Robert Tapert: “We could have created the moths entirely with CGI, but Ole very much wanted the real thing. I commend him for his staunch decision to bring in the moth wrangler. The moths made the scene that much more chilling for us all.”
Every department had to work around the peculiar nature of moth behavior. Production Designer Rachel O’Toole designed bedroom walls that the moths would stick to naturally. Director of Photography Dan Laustsen learned to light the set so the moths wouldn’t be completely distracted by their attraction to bright objects. Later, visual effects supervisor Adam Stern enhanced the creepiness factor of the moths.
Most of all, the actors had to deal with the heebie-jeebies of having these insects crawling all over them. “I’m not a big insect guy,” confesses Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “And these were really huge monster moths. On the first day shooting with them, one got on my bare foot, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”
Adds Natasha Calis: “I was up for a challenge but these things were huge and they’re like black and orange and when I saw them it was kind of like how when you go bungee jumping and at first you’re excited, but then you look over the edge and it’s like uh-oh. Some of them even have little spikes coming out of their legs and are sharp on your skin.”
Still, Young was impressed with how well Natasha kept her composure within the invading storm of moths. “She was a real trooper,” he says.
As for moth wrangler Brad MacDonald, at the end of the day, his only comment was, “I prefer working with snakes.”