Standard-issue thrills, unintentional laughs in ‘The Possession’
Matisyahu and Natasha Calis in "The Possession."
Updated: September 4, 2012 2:30PM
So, you’re a desperate divorced dad and your young daughter discovers an ancient, evil-emanating box covered with cryptic markings at a yard sale. Do you buy it for her?
Of course you do. First of all, dads are not discriminating about such things (after all, it could be an antique evil Barbie House of some sort) and, second of all, it would be a very, very dull movie if that purchase were not made.
One thing “The Possession” is not, in all fairness, is dull. It features a lot of not-particularly original, yet effectively diverting sub-“Exorcist” gross-out horrors. Also, Danish director Ole Bornedal (“Nightwatch”) keeps the atmosphere appropriately dark and creepy. The only problem is that this suburban scare-fest never actually delivers any honest-to-goodness scares — though it is frequently (and, unfortunately for Bornedal, unintentionally) funny.
You can tell right away this movie’s going to be a hoot. It actually opens with a quick pre-title possession of some unknown suburban lady, registering hysterical terror before going into a devil-inhabited gymnastic routine, just as hubby walks in the door for a honey-I’m-home moment. (This is the guy who later fobs off the devil box for 10 bucks at the yard sale.)
Cut to the unhappy former home of nice-guy and high school coach, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who’s swinging by to pick up daughters Hanna and Em (Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis) for a depressing weekend at his bachelor pad. Clyde’s wife (Kyra Sedgwick) dumped him because he was always “absent” at work and she has a new obnoxious boyfriend, who gets his in the most-gruesome and most-welcome fashion.
On the way back to mom’s house, dad buys the obviously bad news box for Em after shaking it thoughtfully and saying “Hmmm. There’s something in there.” Big laugh.
Oh yeah, there’s definitely something in there, as we can see when little Em starts punching dad at the dinner table, cultivating all-white eyeballs and chowing down on raw meat from the fridge. Even so, it takes dad and mom a surprisingly long time to figure out that they’re dealing with a standard demon-possessed little girl scenario.
Eventually, though, dad does get an academic colleague to translate the ancient Hebrew writing on the box (“It says, ‘Warning, do not open.’” Another big laugh). He also finds a group of Jewish mystics who explain that the box contains a Dybbuk — in Jewish folklore, a malevolent spirit often imprisoned in boxes. And the stage is set for the final confrontation (nicely handled) between love and hate, good and evil and an old-school Jewish demon fighter (Hasidic hip-hop/reggae star Matisyahu) and an old-school Jewish demon.
The fact is that, compared to Catholic exorcists, these radical rabbis really take care of business. But, in the end, what do they get out of it?
Bupkis, basically. Except for one final groaning laugh from the audience.