Review: The Possession
PLOT: A divorced father (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) becomes convinced his daughter is possessed by a malicious Hebrew demon, called a dybbuk, after she picks up a mysterious box at a yard sale.
REVIEW: Almost forty years ago, William Friedkin made the definitive demonic possession movie- THE EXORCIST. Since then, hardly a year (or even a few months) has gone by without a derivative retread of his amazing film, and THE POSSESSION is this summer's edition. The only real variation is that, instead of the devil, this demon is an old Hebrew demon called a dybbuk. Other than that, this is the same movie only watered down.
Judging by the opening credits, the folks behind THE POSSESSION want us to believe that this is “based on a true story”- but that shouldn't fool you, as I strongly doubt anything other than someone buying an old box at a yard sale has any basis in reality. However, while THE POSSESSION is derivative, it's not altogether a terrible film as at least it's well put-together, and for once- doesn't rely on the “found-footage” gimmick to tell it's story. The strongest element of the film is the cast, with stars Jeffrey Dean-Morgan, and Kyra Sedgwick being much higher calibre than the usual for the genre. Perhaps they were drawn by Sam Raimi being on-board as a producer (this comes from his Ghost House Films banner) or Danish director Ole Bornedal- director of NIGHTWATCH- both the original Danish version, and it's weak American remake, along with his recent DELIVER US FROM EVIL.
Whatever the reason, they give it their all- although Sedgwick's disbelieving mother/ex-wife is terribly one note, and she comes off as whiny, which is a shame as THE CLOSER has proven she's capable of much more. Dean-Morgan, of MAGIC CITY, WATCHMEN, and THE LOSERS has the stronger part, as the concerned father- and for once, the parent is not portrayed as a skeptic as it becomes clear pretty early on that something's seriously amiss.
Luckily- he works in a University, and a helpful professor points him to a friendly young rabbi- played by Hassadic rapper Matisyahu- who's probably the most interesting person in the film, but gets short shrift until the final, bombastic exorcism conclusion. Young Natasha Calis as the possessed victim, Em, is in the tradition of Linda Blair, playing an almost saintly youngster (who's even a devoted vegan that cries when her dad kills a moth)- who quickly goes bad once possessed.
I could forgive THE POSSESSION for being a retread, as it certainly isn't alone in that department- if only it were scary. Problem is, this is simply a watered-down, PG-13 horror film, that stays remarkably tame and tries to substitute jump scares and loud sound FX for terror. It doesn't really work- and it feels like Bornedal, who's films are usually a lot more transgressive (DELIVER US FROM EVIL is a good example), is shackled to the PG-13 Hollywood formula. The film only comes alive during the exorcism, but even this offers absolutely nothing you haven't seen before- with the only different that instead of a priest screaming “the power of Christ compels you”, we have Matisyahu screaming the dybbuk's name in Hebrew.
Still, THE POSSESSION isn't horrible, and if you're a real genre fanatic, you might get some enjoyment out of it. It's certainly much better than something like THE DEVIL INSIDE, but I can't help but be disappointed in the lack of truly scary films in multiplexes. This is only scary for people that are really jumpy, but for more desensitized horror fans, such as myself- it's boring.