2012, Film Review, Fright, Ghost House Pictures, Horror, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Juliet Snowden, Jump Scare, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu, Natasha Calis, Ole Bornedal, Possession, Sam Raimi, Scary, Spirit, Stiles White
By Shane M. Dallmann
THE POSSESSION is “based on a true story.” Here’s the true story.
Once upon a time, there was a movie called THE EXORCIST. It achieved critical respect the likes of which was seldom achieved by the so-called “horror” genre; it sparked religious and scientific controversy; and above all, it made a huge fortune for Warner Brothers. None of Warners’ subsequent sequels or prequels managed to catch on in a similar fashion, but that never stopped them from trying; and in the meantime, pretty much every other studio around the world realized that they, too, could make easy money with their own demonic possession movies… or at least movies that had words like “exorcism,” “possession,” “devil” or even “rite” in the title. Warner Brothers wasn’t exactly happy about that, but they soon discovered that trying to stop everybody else from making possession movies was a lost cause. And they all lived happily ever after. The end? Never, never, never.
As the bare-bones title subtly suggests, THE POSSESSION is the latest version of THE EXORCIST–this time with a Jewish flavor thanks to the invocation of a Hebrew demon known as a Dybbuk. High school basketball coach Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), recently divorced from Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) has custody of their two young daughters (Natasha Calis as Em and Madison Davenport as Hannah) every weekend and has just moved into a new neighborhood where a yard sale happens to be taking place. For the sake of Em’s fascination, Clyde picks up an antique puzzle box inscribed with Hebrew lettering… HE can’t open it, but Em finds it strangely easy to do so when nobody’s looking. Then Em starts behaving oddly…
As the cliche has it, “you know the drill.” And yet THE POSSESSION curiously tries to have it both ways. You may recall that THE EXORCIST took its time and allowed serious medical/scientific consideration towards Regan’s condition (even if the audience knew to expect the supernatural). THE POSSESSION makes a strong case that the lingering trauma of a broken family (would you believe they’re still using the one where the busy dad forgets to show up for his daughter’s dance recital?) is having an understandable effect on Em… but the VERY FIRST SCENE gives us the demon kicking the supernatural stuffing out of a little old lady, and when Em picks up the Dybbuk-box, a bandaged, bedridden figure sees her through the window and howls “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” lest the audience think that they’re actually watching a domestic drama. Oh, and the Dybbuk is kind enough to show himself on an MRI when it’s important that a non-believing character see the light.
Obviously, something like this will never reach the high tier. Still, THE POSSESSION easily rises above out-and-out dreck like THE APPARITION for several reasons. First, director Ole Bjorndal (the Swedish NIGHTWATCH and the barely-released American remake) is experienced and talented enough to pull off some suspenseful sequences and decent “jump” scares–and better yet, he gets great results with his cast. Morgan is extremely likable and sympathetic as Clyde, while the two daughters are believable and appealing without being cloying or obnoxious. As for Kyra Sedgwick? A talented actress, of course, but her character is extremely off-putting, and the less said about her new orthodontist boyfriend (Grant Show), the better.
Also lending a highly welcome presence is the singer Matisyahu, cast here as Tzadok, who takes it upon himself to assist Clyde and his family when nobody else will (he also gets the best line in the movie, when asked “Can you help us?”). The addition of Orthodox Judaism to the traditional possession mix keeps things more interesting than they would have been otherwise (do you think it just might be time to give the Roman Catholics and the Baptists a cinematic break?), especially as this is another PG-13 outing that can’t go the full “shock value” route (somehow, telling the exorcist to “SHUT UP!” is a less than horrifying manifestation of evil and corruption).
Pure formula, decently packaged. Nothing more.