'The Possession' little more than an 'Exorcist' knockoff 

In this undated publicity photo released by Lionsgate, Natasha Calis stars as Em in the film,
In this undated publicity photo released by Lionsgate, Natasha Calis stars as Em in the film, "The Possession." (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Diyah Pera)

Reviewer's Rating: ★1/2

Like a stream of vomit spewed from the mouth of a possessed child, "The Possession" is nothing more than the long-digested regurgitations of a genre obsessed with copying "The Exorcist." I'm not saying this film is bad enough to require tying the audience to the bed to force them to watch it, but pretty visuals and a decent cast can't save this lost soul from an eternity of mediocrity.

"The Possession" is not bad enough to laugh at, not scary enough to scream at, and just artfully-constructed enough to make you wish that the script had more scares than clichés.

One difference from "The Exorcist" is that instead of a concerned mother and a Catholic priest suffering from a crisis of faith, our heroes are absentee father Clyde Brenek, sympathetically played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and his ex-wife Stephanie played by "The Closer's" Kyra Sedgewick. They have two daughters, the snotty, bratty teenager Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em, impressively portrayed by Natasha Calis.

Em discovers a mystical wooden box at a yard sale, and once she opens it, she is possessed. She then spends the rest of the film spewing moths, wearing white nightgowns, and letting her hair hang in front of her face. While the film takes its time introducing the divorce drama that is tearing this family apart, it's a trite plot that isn't as interesting or as relevant to the demonic subject matter as Father Karras' religious doubts in "The Exorcist."

One noteworthy deviation from "the Possession's" role model is the fact that this demon is a dybbuk, a malevolent spirit pulled straight from Hebrew mythology. To combat this Jewish demon, Clyde teams up with an orthodox Jewish man named Tzadok, who is none other than real-life Jewish reggae musician, and apparently exorcist, Matisyahu. A shift away from the familiar Catholic-centric exorcism movies could have opened the door for creepy new mythologies and inventive baddies, but "The Possession" is content to let it all end in a big room-shaking, lights-flickering finale that lacks inspiration-divine or otherwise.

While the script is sigh-worthy, Danish director Ole Bornedal commands both the actors and the camera with a stark vision that elevates the film far beyond the usual Hollywood shock and gore fare, if only visually. Shot after shot echoes an empty, eerie calm that suggests an unnatural stillness that reminds the audience of movies like "The Shining." However, at no point is "The Possession" genuinely scary, or even startling enough to make you spill your popcorn, but at the very least, it's a beautiful film to watch.

The musical score is similarly ambitious, though often overeager. While many horror film soundtracks are content to wait in the background with subdued strings and then shock the audience when the monster springs out at them, "The Possession's" music regularly crescendos before pulling back to silence and then restarting with the same creepy minor note. It's clear that a stab at a signature style is being attempted, but after the fifth time, it starts to feel forced.

"The Possession" unfortunately possesses nothing to set it apart from all the other scavengers picking at the scraps of a truly great horror movie made way back in 1973. It's time that studios, and more importantly audiences, exorcise these types of movies from our theaters once and for all.