reviewed by Matthew Schuchman | Friday, August 31st, 2012

The PossessionLionsgate
91 min., dir. by Ole Bornedal, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, and Natasha Calis

Every subgenre story has its “The Godfather,” the one film everyone points to as the zenith of filmmaking surrounding a certain plot. There’s no doubt The Exorcist takes the cake for movies dealing with possessions. The Possession is able to distance itself some by focusing on a Judaical driven ominous entity, supplying a fresh angle for the tale. Still, the film is too light on the true terror it could have delivered.

It has been about a year since basketball coach Clyde Brenek (Jeffery Dean Morgan) divorced his wife. While the Brenek family has some turbulent times working through the separation, they seem to handle things well. On the first weekend Clyde has the kids since purchasing a new house, his youngest daughter Em (Natasha Calis) begins to exhibit some very disturbing behavior. While everyone suspects her parents desperation has begun to take its toll on her fragile mind, Clyde suspects there is something else, something unbelievable behind her strange behavior. When Em becomes scarily obsessed with a strange box her father bought her at a yard sale, Clyde does some research that leads him to believe this seemingly mundane piece of wood, is a dybbuk box: a container meant to imprison a ghost/detached soul, which, in Judaism, is called a dybbuk. The dybbuk in this box wants nothing else than to come back to life — and it needs Em to do so.

Highly predictable, The Possession succeeds in piling on some fright, only to deflate most of it with silly outros of a repetitive nature. A few attempts at unsettling moments shine through in the form of an excruciating dental assault and a well-executed MRI scan, but the flimsy aspects of The Possession far outweigh its solid points. As with all horror films, the true terror stems from the viewers own fears and perceptions. While the woman seated next to me felt the need to cower behind her pamphlet of press notes for most of the film, and expressed that a little girl with a uncooked t-bone steak in her mouth was the scariest thing she has seen in her life, most of The Possession barely moved my cheek from its resting place on my fist.

The big surprise of The Possession, however, was the Hebrew-Reggae singer Matisyahu as the young Hassid who goes out of his way to help the Breneks rid their daughter of this parasitic entity. Unaware going in to the theater that he was even in the movie, I wasn’t quite sure it was him until the credits rolled. This isn’t a star-making performance, but his character brings a certain brightness to the game that might have been tough to get from a stout religious figure. Young Natasha Calis as the troubled little girl shows promise, but she too is affected by the uneven handling of the film’s early darkness.

If you want it to make you shrivel up into a ball of quivering jelly, The Possession can make it happen. To me, it felt too plain and simple, unable to shock my core. This is the type of film that preys on a specific weakness that resides in those who want to believe that the phrase “based on a true story” means the screen shows them a 100 percent accurate retelling. So if that’s you, and you want a decent scare, head on in to the theater. Otherwise, The Possession is as soulless as the dybbuk in the box.

Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache and also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind.

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