Movie Review: The Possession

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Lionsgate, the distributors of The Possession, employed some tried and true sleight of hand with their marketing. You know the routine – emphasize the famous director who didn’t actually direct the movie but is presenting it, co-producing it, or whatever.  (In this case, it’s Sam Raimi on both counts.)  Then mention how it’s based on a true story – even if the connection is comically thin. Finally, take all the creepiest bits and pieces and string ’em together for the teaser.

Experienced horror fans know this little parlor trick is just smoke and mirrors to get people to come see a not-so-great movie. And come we will – “I gotta go, it’s Sam Raimi”  – the ‘a’ sound in Raimi drawn out like a plea.

And so I went.

The PossessionAnd as I suspected, there’s very little that’s Raimi-esque about The Possession. It’s directed by Ole Bornedal, whose credits include Nightwatch, and while his direction is solid, there just isn’t much style – or substance. It’s very much a paint-by-the numbers flick that is overly careful to not push the boundaries of its PG13 rating. Like its recent cousins The Last Exorcism, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, there’s no blood, little if any cursing, no spinning heads or pea-soup projectile vomiting. I think I’m seeing a trend here…

It seems like Exorcist-lite has become a sub-genre recently: watered down PG13 movies about young women who suffer from demonic possession. They say that horror films reflect the contemporary fears of society at large, so I have to wonder what statement these films are trying to make.  I suppose that’s a question for another article – but it’s way more interesting to think about than this movie.

The Possession stars Javier Bardem look-alike Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick and Natasha Calis – who actually delivers the most memorable performance of the movie as the demon possessed ‘Em.’

Common to movies in this vein, possession afflicts the innocent who come in contact with some ancient relic or artifact. In this case a Jewish Dibbuk Box is the culprit – and also the sole basis of the “true story” behind The Possession. (More on that in a moment.)  Young Em buys the box, which has no visible opening and is covered in ancient Hebrew, at a garage sale while spending the weekend with her dad (Morgan) and older sister. The movie draws much of its tension from the relationships between the girls and their divorced parents.  As Em falls prey to the evil inside the box, it only exacerbates an already gloomy atmosphere.

The PossessionAs Em’s behavior gradually changes, it drives the family further apart – that is until the box opens and the evil manifests itself in more physical ways. Unfortunately, nearly all the cool effects were revealed beforehand in the teasers. Nevertheless, seeing fingers trying to claw their way out of the little girl’s throat is still a little startling – and one of the few elements reminiscent of a Sam Raimi film.  Most of the rest of the movie is standard fare, although one scene, which played on the fact that the mom’s new boyfriend is an orthodontist, was particularly memorable – though I won’t spoil it here since this movie already has so few surprises.

Bardem does some research on the origins of the box and his discovery leads him to seek help from a young orthodox Rabbi. The movie culminates in a good vs. evil battle involving a lot of chanting, flying objects, and thrashing about, until the demon is finally exorcised and good wins… mostly.

Overall, The Possession makes for an OK popcorn flick but you’ll probably enjoy it more as a $3 rental, at home on the couch.

Or you could save yourself three bucks and be equally entertained by reading the “true story” of the real Dibbuk Box, below.

Rating: 2.5/5 ★★½☆☆ 

From a 2004 LA Times article:

“A small wooden cabinet went up for auction on EBay. Inside were two locks of hair, one granite slab, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick and, allegedly, one “dibbuk,” a kind of spirit popular in Yiddish folklore.

The seller, a Missouri college student named Iosif Nietzke, described the container as a “haunted Jewish wine cabinet box” that had plagued several owners with rotten luck and a spate of bizarre paranormal stunts.”

And more from an official website about the Dibbuk Box:

At the time when I bought the cabinet, I owned a small furniture refinishing business. I took the cabinet to my store, and put it in my basement workshop where I intended to refinish it and give it as a gift to my Mother. I didn’t think anything more about it. I opened my shop for the day and went to run some errands leaving the young woman who did sales for me in charge.

After about a half-hour, I got a call on my cell phone. The call was from my salesperson. She was absolutely hysterical and screaming that someone was in my workshop breaking glass and swearing. Furthermore, the intruder had locked the iron security gates and the emergency exit and she couldn’t get out. As I told her to call the police, my cell phone battery went dead. \ I hit speeds of 100 mph getting back to the shop. When I arrived, I found the gates locked. I went inside and found my employee on the floor in a corner of my office sobbing hysterically. I ran to the basement and went downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, I was hit by an overpowering unmistakable odor of cat urine (there had never been any animals kept or found in my shop). The lights didn’t work. As I investigated, I found that the reason the lights didn’t work also explained the sounds of glass breaking. All of the light bulbs in the basement were broken. All nine incandescent bulbs had been broken in their sockets, and 10 four-foot fluorescent tubes were lying shattered on the floor. I did not find an intruder, however. I should also add that there was only one entrance to the basement. It would have been impossible for anyone to leave without meeting me head-on. I went back up to speak with my salesperson, but she had left.

She never returned to work (after having been with me for two years). She refuses to discuss the incident to this day. I never thought of relating the events of that day to anything having to do with the cabinet.

There’s more at the website, although when I went there it appeared to be a little wonky and I had to reload it a couple of times: http://dibbukbox.com/story.htm

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About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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