The Possession: A Jewish Exorcism 


The Possession
Directed by Ole Bornedal

As a director, Sam Raimi cut his teeth on the Evil Dead trilogy and proved they were still sharp with his spookhouse palate-cleanser Drag Me to Hell. Why, then, has his Ghost Host Pictures production company failed to produce a single memorable non-Hell horror movie over the past ten years? The Possession, the company's latest effort, tries a different take on the company's inert ghost stories by utilizing a dybbuk Box and a Jewish exorcism ceremony rather than a Catholic one—though the already-forgotten schlocker The Unborn went there in 2009.

The broken family in The Possession isn't identifiably Jewish—either because the film wants the rabbis it eventually introduces to seem more exotic, or because their chosen religion is Dealing with Divorce. Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) have split into separate well-appointed houses, although Clyde's is in an unfinished housing development that looks eerie at night. Their older daughter Hannah (Madison Davenport) believes them when they say they won't get back together, while younger Em (Natasha Calis) holds out hope; it seems like Clyde does, too, based on the sidelong glances he casts toward Stephanie's new boyfriend. On one of his weekend visits with the kids, they visit a garage sale, where Em picks out an old wooden box—a dybbuk Box, which houses a wayward spirit.

As the spirit prepares Em for possession, she becomes attached to the box, keeping it close like a favorite toy. The scenes with Em's growing allegiance to the demon wring some darkly funny horror out of tween-parent confusion, as Em suffers from an intense, desperate obsession her family can't understand—she's got dybbuk Fever! But the movie never fully explores this angle; it shunts Em's actual relationships off to the side to clear room for an obvious story about no one believing poor Clyde, the first (and basically only) person to notice his daughter's growing supernatural creepiness.

That creepiness fails to pay even the traditional horror-movie dividends. Despite some unnerving imagery—swarming moths, fingers reaching out from a mouth, a ghostly MRI—The Possession creates only the illusion of a classically stylish horror picture. Director Ole Bornedal makes peculiar cuts: several scenes, as when Clyde first examines the box without his daughter present, come to an abrupt, meaningless end, often punctuated by vivid but empty overhead shots of suburban houses. With such disjointed editing, the movie often feels like it's on the verge of cross-cutting without bothering to actually weave scenes together. The whole thing sports a flimsy façade, with amateurish bit-part actors—necessary but transparent demon fodder—forced to recite dialogue that sounds rough-draft foreign ("this wasn't just a fight—this was violent," a teacher nonsensically explains about Em's behavior, which I guess usually consists of nonviolent fights). But the shoddy construction fits the movie's underdeveloped ideas about family: that a broken home could be just a dybbuk away from reconciliation.

Opens August 31

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