"The Possession" is too unreal to frighten
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Your average Catholic Rite of exorcism will expel the demon and by the power of Christ banish it into spiritual oblivion. In the Jewish ritual, the “dybbuk” is extracted and contained in a special wooden box, never to be opened again. In “The Possession,” the first big horror movie of the fall season, such a box is sold to a suburban family at an everyday yard sale. Supposedly based on a true story, this film will make you think twice about buying people’s old junk.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the father of Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Emily (Natasha Calis). The three have moved into a brand new home after a rocky divorce between Clyde and their mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). The separation has dejected Emily and Hannah, though their love for their father remains evident. On an errand for new dishes they pass a local garage sale and Hannah insists they check it out. While browsing the many trinkets, Emily stumbles upon a sinister box. It attracts her instantly, which is the first red flag. How many grade school girls beg their father to buy a spooky crate with Hebrew inscription carved into it? But Clyde gives in, and the dybbuk comes home.
Film lacks realism despite scares
That night, Emily finds a way of opening the box which has no discernible seams or keyholes. Inside are several creepy baubles including an old woman’s ring and a human tooth, the second red flag that this box probably isn’t the holiest of things to have around you. But Emily becomes further mesmerized by it and soon falls into a zombie-like stupor. In any horror flick that involves parents there seems to be a rule that they have to be painfully ignorant of the obvious. It takes Clyde a little too long to put the pieces together here, and Stephanie isn’t convinced until the tail-end of the third act. Even when Emily ferociously stabs Clyde’s hand with a fork, he dismisses her with a heated, “Go to your room!” Really? I’m no parent, but I’d say that deserves at least a dollar dock on allowance.
At the point that Emily admits to having a “friend in the box,” the lightbulb finally begins to flicker for Clyde. He confiscates the box and consults a local university professor, who concludes that it’s the casket for an active dybbuk — a spirit that leaches on to adolescent souls and uses their bodies as worldly vessels. While it would seem the next logical step, Clyde does not visit the house where the yard sale took place and demand an explanation. Why anyone would keep a post-exorcism dybbuk box in their home to gather dust, or sell it to an innocent child for that matter, is beyond me. Tie an anvil to that thing and throw it in the Mariana Trench!
With better knowledge of what now resides in Emily, Clyde hits the ol’ YouTube and watches numerous clips of dybbuk exorcism, which may honestly be the most frightening scene of the film. He seeks out a Hasidic community in Brooklyn and convinces a young Rabbi named Tzadok (Matisyahu) to help him expel it, leading to the ultimate and tumultuous horror crescendo: the final exorcism.
God's role minimized in film about the spiritual
1973’s “The Exorcist” was the best movie about demon possession ever made. All others can’t help but be compared to it, just as every mob movie must be measured against “The Godfather.” In terms of “The Possession’s” merit, it’s hard to say. It was short on genuine scares, and didn’t seem in a hurry to achieve them. Neither was it serious enough to pass as a spiritual drama, which landed it somewhere in-between and made it forgettable. It didn’t contribute much to the genre but instead fell back on its formulas. However, the cinematography was inventive and director Ole Bornedal knows how to set a stage. The MRI and exorcism scenes were especially engrossing set pieces, and admittedly it was fun seeing Jewish Reggae/Hip-Hop artist Matisyahu make an honest attempt at acting.
As in most movies involving demons and exorcisms, I feel there’s too much focus on the satanic and not enough on God’s involvement. I don’t just say this as a Christian, but as someone who knows it would make for a more balanced narrative to involve Holy Spirit theology in the plot. Even while the priest calls upon Christ at any cinematic exorcism climax, the focal point is still so much more devoted to evil than good. It seems the need for dread runs deep in the horror genre; this much is clear in the last two minutes of “The Possession.”