A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.
It’s something of a dare for The Black Saint to sit through any films that deal with demonic possession. I was subjected to “The Exorcist” at the tender age of 9 and my psyche was scarred from that moment on, to this day I still have 1-2 vivid nightmares a year featuring Linda Blair and her spinning head chasing me every which way but loose. So every time I get assigned to watch some type of possession film I get more than a bit…unsettled. To make matters worse for me, the film I watched tonight is called “The Possession” and judging from the trailers it’s practically an “Exorcist” clone (albeit a PG-13 one) so I approached my seat with no small amount of trepidation and nervousness.
Directed by Ole Bornedal, “The Possession” deals with the legend of The Dybbuk Box which is a box that’s sole purpose is to lock away a Dybbuk (A malevolent possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person). In this film the box is purchased at a yard sale by Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his two daughters Hannah (Madison Davenport) & Em (Natasha Calis). The young girls parents are recently divorced and Clyde gets them on the weekends, their mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) has them Monday thru Friday. It’s on a trip back to his newly bought home that Clyde and the girls happen upon the yard sale and Em is drawn to the box, which is engraved with Hebrew letters all around it and has no visible seams to indicate that it can be opened. Clyde just pays for the box and some other odd trinkets that the girls picked out without even questioning what the box is even for.
Em figures out how to open the box and finds it full of odd unrelated items, among them a dried moth, some flowers and a ring which she promptly puts on her finger. Em’s personality and appearance begin to slowly take a turn for the worse afterwards and she becomes extremely attached to the box. She claims that she has a “Friend” that lives in the box who speaks to her (Indeed she does hear a Gollum like voice coming from the box). The voice she hears is that of a Dybbuk that wants to take over Em’s body and get rid of her in the process. Through a series of events involving Em’s increasingly bizarre behavior and some good old fashioned research, Clyde figures out what the box really is and although he cannot convince his ex-wife right away he does manage to find someone who agrees to help him remove the evil spirit from out of Em’s body. This Hebrew exorcist is named Tzadok and in a surprisingly effective turn is played by Hasidic rap/reggae artist Matisyahu. Stephanie becomes convinced that her daughter is indeed possessed by a malevolent spirit when she actually SEES the spirit inhabiting her daughters body during a MRI.
It all culminates with the young and untested Tzadok attempting to exorcise the demon from Em’s body but is he up to it? Well, you’ll have to see the film to find out but I can tell you that “The Possession” is attempting to be this generations “Exorcist” and although it tries really hard it just isn’t scary enough to warrant comparison to William Friedkin’s classic. A lot of the scenes in the film seem to have been lifted completely from “The Exorcist” actually, even the poster for the film echoes the poster from it’s inspiration. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but here it’s so shameless and brazen that it comes off as cloying and more than a bit lazy. The script (By Juliet Snowden & Stiles White) seems content to crib some of the more intense scenes from “The Exorcist” and try to fit a bit of Hebrew legend into them in an attempt to disguise the fact that none of them are very original. Which struck me as sad in a way since the film is based on actual events and after doing a bit of research on my own I think a really scary & original film could be made from the source material. They even go so far as to give the spirit a name (Abyzou) that sounds very similar to the name of the demon in “The Exorcist” (Pazuzu). That just struck me as lazy screenwriting.
What saves the film are the performances from the cast. There is genuine chemistry between the four principals going on here and the script takes pains to give the audience time to like the characters and to care about the relationship between a father and his daughters which is something that I think is a rarity in horror films nowadays. Jeffrey Dean Morgan gives an exceptionally good performance as Clyde, who only wants to save his daughter and will go to any length to do so. Sadly the script echoes “The Exorcist” here as well once he makes a demand of Abyzou towards the end of the film that is once again, lifted straight out of Friedkin’s film. But it doesn’t make it any less potent and Morgan’s performance makes it believable and scary. Matisyahu has a low key air about him but he also carries a gravitas that makes his performance convincing. I think his role is pivotal because in the hands of a lesser actor it could’ve come off as way over the top but he manages to tread the fine line between actor and scenery chewer in a exemplary fashion.
But as good as those two performances are the film would have been an abject failure if the role of Em wasn’t handled properly. And Natasha Calis is something of a revelation in the role. She exudes youthful exuberance in the beginning and becomes an extremely frightening entity as the film continues. She really nails the role and if some nutjob producer ever decides they want to try and remake “The Exorcist” they need look no further than the young Ms. Calis to fill the role of Ragan, she’s amazing!
The score of the film (By Anton Sanko) is an extremely bombastic one that didn’t seem to fit the goings on but nevertheless kept my ears occupied. The film relies on more than a few sudden blackout scenes that are accompanied by a stern sounding single key piano strike that was initially effective but sounded silly as it kept coming back. Director Ole Bernadal (“Nightwatch”) leans toward a few too many jump scares in my opinion but he keeps the atmosphere in the film tense throughout it’s running time and never lets the audience off the hook. There are some genuinely scary scenes waiting for you here.
All in all I liked “The Possession” enough to score it three out of five shrouds overall. It’s biggest problem is it’s utterly shameless attempt to ape “The Exorcist” and although it fails in that attempt it is a scary movie that will keep audiences on edge throughout, and for my money that’s saying something nowadays.
The Possession is now available on Bluray per Lionsgate Entertainment
The Possession (2012)
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