The new demonic-possession themed horror film, The Possession, is as original as its unimaginative name implies – that is, not at all. This movie is a Jewish take on the genre that is usually associated with the Catholic religion and sounds much more interesting in concept than this film actually delivers on.
A recently divorced couple, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the Comedian from Watchmen) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), are shuffling their children, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), between their homes on the weekends. There are the usual issues with the kids playing the parents against each other and the always arrogant and evil boyfriend, who everyone except the Mom hates.
On one weekend trip, Clyde stops at a yard sale with the kids and the youngest daughter, Em, is infatuated with an antique wooden box that is for sale. They purchase the box and Em slowly begins to become obsessed with it and its contents, which includes a gnarly tooth, an antique ring, some bugs and other odd wicked items that the parents don’t seem to mind the child playing with.
Em’s behavior becomes increasingly odd and she eventually is completely possessed by whatever evil has been unleashed from within the box (you know, just like what happens with most yard sale purchases.) Clyde finally puts two and two together and takes the box to his professor friend at the college to find out what is really behind this mysterious crate.
It turns out that the family purchased a “Dybbuk box,” which is a Jewish containment device for a demonic spirit. When Em opened the box the demon attached itself to her because she was an innocent soul, but the hellish spirit can also jump from person to person as well, making them do devilish contortions that would make Michael Jackson jealous.
In desperation, Clyde contacts Rabbi Tzadok (played by the Yiddish musician/singer, Matisyahu) who volunteers to perform an exorcism on the girl to remove the evil spirit and get the beast back in the box. What follows is basically the same stuff we’ve seen before in a dozen other movies of this type. Sure, some of it is very creepy on a very primal level, but there is nothing really new here at all.
The Possession is based the true story of a real Dybbuk box that has been auctioned on eBay and that allegedly brings misfortune to everyone who has purchased it. The film’s Danish director Ole Bornedal and producer Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) were reportedly offered the real box to use during the making of the movie and they turned down the generous proposal. Who can blame them?
Natasha Calis, who plays Em in this film, does an incredible job as the possessed little girl. She is very talented and the movie’s problems certainly do not lie on her shoulders. In fact, outside of a few loose ends, (like why Clyde doesn’t ever talk to the people he bought the box from), there is really not that much that is wrong with this rather standard horror flick. It’s just that we’ve seen this so many times before and changing the context of the religious faith doesn’t make this an intriguing or original story. Grade: 5/10
If you are interested in the true story this film is based on, you can read the original Los Angeles Times article, ‘A jinx in a box,’ or read the book about the strange misadventures of the box owners, in ‘The Dibbuk Box,’ by Jason Haxton.