Following the many Catholic exorcisms performed in movies — from 1973’s The Exorcist through its many sequels and 2004 prequel, plus the many Exorcist imitations — another exorcism film, The Possession, throws a new curve through the darkness.
The Possession may be the first Hollywood depiction of a Jewish exorcism. Perhaps demons come in all denominations. Might there be Baptist demons, Episcopalian demons? Unitarian demons?
The evil spirit in The Possession is held captive in an old wooden box, the top of which bears an inscription in Hebrew.
Even when the spirit is in the box, it’s capable of mischief. And the thing can he heard outside of the box. It whispers and sings softly, eerily.
Sitting on a mantle in an otherwise normal household at the beginning of The Possession, this musically inclined demon-in-a-box drives the elderly lady of the house nuts. Her failed attempt to destroy the box produces a violently dramatic opening scene.
Following the old lady’s horrific experience, 10-year-old Emily spots the box at a yard sale. She’s drawn to the thing, so much so that her dad buys it for her.
Natasha Calis play Emily, just the sort of innocent child that the spirit, known in Jewish folklore as a dibbuk, wants most of all to possess. Emily and her older sister, Hannah (Madison Davenport), think they’ve been going through a rough patch because of their parents’ divorce. But next to a dibbuk that’s hell bent on devouring its human host, divorce is child’s play. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Emily and Hannah’s dad, Clyde. Despite some high-profile film and television work, including Watchmen, 300, Grey’s Anatomy and Weeds, he’s anonymous and earnest enough to work very well within The Possession as a normal dad faced with terrifying circumstances.
Kyra Sedgwick of TV’s The Closer co-stars as the girls’ mother. Even with much less to do than Morgan, Sedgwick is seen often enough to be the movie’s second-most villainous character.
The film’s screenwriters, Juliet Snowden, an LSU graduate who grew up in Natchitoches, and her husband, Stiles White, make Sedgwick’s Stephanie a controlling woman who treats her ex-husband with, at best, cool disdain. Such a depiction, though, helps better position the story’s flawed dad as a struggling underdog who must defeat a powerful demon.
Adding to Clyde’s worries, his ex-wife has a new man in her life. Grant Show from TV’s CSI, Burn Notice, Big Love and Melrose Place plays the interloper as a perfectly nice guy, albeit no match for a demon.
The dibbuk being a Jewish demon, Hasidic rap-reggae artist Matisyahu co-stars as Tzadok, an orthodox Jew who dares to battle the evil spirit. Matisyahu’s casting may have looked better on paper than it does on film. Not that he need be Max von Sydow, Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins, but Matisyahu is too low-key to the point of being disinterested.
More importantly, The Possession’s director, Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal, and writers White and Snowden cast the familiar possession genre in a fresh, cool sort of darkness. Bornedal is good at mixing creepy atmosphere with visually arresting bursts of horror. All of this makes The Possession much better than it needs to be given its late-summer horror flick placement.
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