Director: Ole Bornedal
Studios: Ghost House Pictures, North Box Productions
Starring: Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Madison Davenport, Kyra Sedgwick
Tagline: Fear the Demon that Doesn’t Fear God.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: horror, thriller, family drama, possession, exorcism, religious occult
Scare score: B
Plot overview: After buying a strange, antique wooden box from a yard sale, young Emily Brenek (Calis) begins to become obsessed with the item. As her health, mood, and personality all begin to alter, her recently divorced parents – father Clyde (Morgan) and mother Stephanie (Sedgwick) – grow more concerned although only Clyde realizes that Em’s problems might stem from the mysterious box. After investigating into Jewish folklore, Clyde learns that the box was inhabited by a dybbuk that is now taking over his daughter.
Just in time for the high holidays, I stumbled upon this good picture late last night. Although I know I’ve seen bits and pieces of it (or otherwise psychically predicted the fork scene), I had never seen the entire movie. Let’s start at the very beginning:
“Based on a true story.” The 5 words I hate most at the beginning of any horror movie. The poster proudly displays it, and the opening credits of the movie boast it, too. The length filmmakers will go through today to say that their movie is based on a true story is really astounding, but I guess it must be worth it in the market. As far as my research tells me, the “true story” behind The Possession is that the ‘dybbuk box’ actually exists, has been bought or sold on ebay on at least one occasion, and is now hidden in a secret place because the it gave the various owners nightmares. Now I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool that this box exists – a major plus for the movie was this beautiful prop; I especially loved the size and detail. BUT the fact of the matter is that there never was an Emily, nor a Clyde, nor a Tzadok (Matisyahu). Looks like I just debunked that dybbuk.
Truth or fantasy aside, I enjoyed the plot once it finally developed. What we have here is a tale of divorce and how the children are reacting to it. While the older Hannah (Davenport) has already learned to suck it up and cope with the fact that mommy and daddy aren’t friends anymore, Em is still naive and remains hopeful that somehow they will get back together. Which brings about my theory: the family simply experienced a group hallucination while Emily faked everything in order to mend her broken family – and it worked.
But what I really thought this movie had going for it was the Jewish folklore instead of our typical, washed up Christian possession – and I mean that. If you’ve read this blog before you know that Horror Snob pretty much hates all religious possession/ exorcism movies because they are overkill and rarely bring us any new creative or intellectual material. That being said, I walked into this movie as a skeptic, even though I knew the co-producer here was the versatile Sam Raimi. From the get go we know that this box is haunted somehow by something, and we realize the victim will be Em (especially when she wears that ring that no one ever mentions and it turns her hand green… like okay Dumbledore). What we don’t expect is that all of the sudden it’s not just your average ghost and not even your average demon but a dybbuk – and not just any dybbuk but our dear friend Abyzou, the childbirth demon AND a female (girl power!) I mean yeah, we’ve seen dybbuks in I think in The Unborn so this isn’t an entirely new concept in modern horror, but it’s still a different one which makes way for new plot and a different kind of exorcism.
The acting was fine in this movie. I didn’t think Morgan was really anything special even though there’s tons of good stuff written about him online. He never bothered me and I rather liked him, but in the scene where he pleads to that Jewish council asking them for help I thought he did a really poor job. Calis was a real pleasure to watch in this demanding role, and I enjoyed her being sweet, normal Em just as much as I did her screaming, angry possessed side. Davenport in the role of the older, no BS sister Hannah was really talented, and I enjoyed her performance quite a bit. Together, the girls made convincing sisters. Then again I don’t have a sister, so what do I know?
As far as the haunting/ possession goes, that’s where most of this movie’s thrills come from. We have a smorgasbord of creepy happenings like the terrible bugs, the fingers in the back of the throat (ah!), and the eyes rolling backwards or sideways or any which way that was pretty nasty on several occasions. Seems to me like all these spooks would freak out your general audience.
Final critique: I’m making this a short entry because Horror Snob needs a nap. Again, the best thing this movie has going for it is the whole Jewish mysticism bit; for once it isn’t satan, it’s my dybbuk in a box! The scares are plentiful and diverse with good effects, which would definitely freak out your typical alone-at-home-in-the-dark viewer. So go check out this film, which isn’t so much “based on a true story” as it is “based on a true box.”