One has to give credit to Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal’s (“Nightwatch”) The Possession for its distinctive spin on an old familiar theme spotlighting an impressionable little girl under the influence of a demonic curse. Secondly, the audience is reminded that this horror showcase is “based on a true story” as if to justify its authentic conviction as a creepy caper worth plausible consideration.
Thankfully The Possession is not in the class of cheesy horror-themed hokum that thrives on illogical and nonsensical nuances. However, this moody frightfest still violates the cardinal rules of borrowing concepts from other superior boo-based fare and catering to the clichéd conventions of the ubiquitous goose-bump genre. The film’s sheen does have a sophisticated glossy look and is methodical in its approach to the chilliness of its tale. Still, The Possession disappoints in that its fundamental morbid makeup is reduced to being dismissed as a “Jewish knockoff of The Exorcist ” that will invite obvious comparisons.
Newly divorced couple Clyde and Stephanie Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) is concerned about the recent erratic behavior of their 11-year old daughter Em (Natasha Calis channeling the aura of the aforementioned The Exorcist’s Linda Blair). The guilt stems from their marital split as Em demonstrates the strangest of off-kilter reactions and indifference.
Clyde does not realize that Em’s disturbing impulses has resulted from a visit to a yard sale that he took her to as a casual bonding session. Based upon Em’s pleas her father purchases a mysterious wooden box that features Hebrew carvings sealed by a lock. Fortifying Em’s curiosity she opens up the wooden box unaware that the squared item spells disaster. Specifically, an evil spirit known as dibbuk (believed to be from Jewish folklore) is unleashed and will have a profound effect on Em as she becomes possessed.
The dubious box in question is armed with a haunting and husky demon voice in addition to its cynical inhabitant in the dibbuk that has put a wicked spell on the Brenek child. Em resorts to some drastic actions as she brings the box possession home to her father’s place. Within time Em strikes fear when she spontaneously stabs Clyde’s hand with a fork out of the blue. Other transgressions include her mother Stephanie’s insufferable dentist boyfriend Brett (Grant Show) suffering from an extreme and ironic case of dental meltdown. An early victim of the dibbuk/Em creaky connection has a schoolteacher succumbing to an eventual demise.
The physical ailments that plague Em range from hundreds of moths flying out of her mouth to her hand turning blue. A visit to the hospital revealed that a strange creature was living inside Em’s petite body. The thought of getting on Em’s bad side is ill-advised as those that threaten to irritate her may end up experiencing the wrath of the diabolical dibbuk’s trance.
When all else fails regarding Em’s precarious state of emergency the thought process is to summon an Internet-based Hasidic rabbi’s son (reggae pop star Matisyahu) as the youthful Jewish exorcist that may rescue Em from the curse of the notorious dibbuk disillusionment. Amid the carnage and confusion with Em, both Clyde and Stephanie cannot seem to put their differences aside when their damaged daughter’s soul is at stake.
Screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White concoct a storyline that does have a gripping edge despite its been-there-done-that premise. This fright fable does not go for the over-the-top titillating shenanigans much like its caustic contemporaries. The religious flourishes are interesting although quite common in horror cinema to symbolize the phenomenon of frenzied forces in the realm of sadistic mayhem. Clearly Bornedal’s nervous-minded narrative is in salute to Exorcist director William Friedkin’s macabre masterpiece.
As promising as The Possession is in copycat conception the movie still comes off as a stillborn and formulaic shocker mired in sketchy psychological scares and a lightweight Friedkin-esque style blueprint. It is more often and not atmospheric in its chills. As the little demonized debutante, Calis is indeed riveting although she is in the long line of corruptible kiddie molds from deranged dolls in The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark to Poison Ivy’s seductive siren Ivy. Morgan and Sedgwick are in throwaway roles as the bickering ex marrieds. As the Jewish exorcist/healer, Matisyahu is entertaining as the religious source looking to banish the tainted terror embedded inside Em.
The one thing that is annoyingly traditional in The Possession as in other horror showcases is the frustrating and forbidden gesture of walking into a dark room without using common sense. Only this time the predictable havoc is created by opening a locked wooden box with eerie Jewish mythology attached. Go figure!
The Possession (Lionsgate Films)
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport, Grant Show, Matisyahu
Directed by: Ole Bornedal
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Horror/Suspense & Mystery
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)