Every year, it seems, there is a horror film about a demonic child (usually a girl) and how the b-list actor parents try to save the child. For 2012, that film was The Possession. While normally these films are mediocre at best, Possession is a surprisingly engaging film.
Clyde (an unflattering-looking Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is recently separated from his wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). He now balances his sports coach duties with weekend custody of his daughters Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport). Hannah is already becoming the disillusioned teenager, angry at Clyde for not showing up to her dance performances. But Em seems to be dealing with her parents' separation well until she latches onto a box that Clyde gets her at a yard sale.
Em's obsession with the box leads to erratic behaviors that worry her parents and teachers. Other strange things begin occurring as well (like a disturbing moth infestation in Clyde's house). Clyde begins to realize that the box is dangerous, but as he tries to hide it from Em her actions become more dangerous—for her and others.
With a little research, Clyde discovers that the box is a Dibbuk box. In Jewish folklore, a Dibbuk is a malicious soul with unfinished business in the mortal world. The souls are trapped within a wine cabinet, or Dibbuk box, so they will not wreak havoc. So, Clyde must race to Brooklyn, New York to find a rabbi to exorcise the demon within his daughter before the demon destroys her. (The film remains unconcerned with discovering this demon's unfinished business to free it.)
This movie contains many of the cliches found in these types of horror films. But what makes it interesting is that it focuses on demons of a Jewish nature. Usually Catholic priests are called in to perform those familiar chants, but in this film we get to see a Jewish-style exorcism that implements its own kind of rituals. This gives Possession enough edge to set it apart from its competition. With a new religious mythology and the fact that it's based on a true story (see: Bonus Features), The Possession possesses enough original verve to keep it entertaining for even the most disillusioned filmgoer.
Unfortunately, that is about all that sets it apart. The acting in the film is adequate. Sedgwick is comfortable as Stephanie, blindly blaming Clyde for the tragedy that surrounds Em (until she sees the Dibbuk's face in her daughter's CAT scan, that is). But she also manages to work in some romantic drama with Clyde through some old videos of them together (back when Morgan was in better shape). Calis, too, does an adequate job portraying a possessed child, looking dead-eyed and mildly horrifying.
While The Possession is a horror film, it isn't necessarily a scary film. The moths are certainly disturbing, as are the fingers that Em is frequently trying to cough up. But the film isn't trying to terrify you, just set you on edge. Still, the film works better as an glimpse into Jewish folklore than as any form of horror film.
For those who are easily terrified, this horror film will be bearable; but those looking to be terrified will be disappointed. And for those who fall in between, this will be an enjoyable film. It's a surprisingly serious and somber horror film that treats its subject with respect and awe instead of the campy triviality usual found in this genre. While not exceptional in any way, The Possession is interesting enough to distract you for a couple of hours.
"The Real History of the Dibbuk Box" examines the story the film is based on, incorporating intereviews with the real people who came into contact with a Dibbuk box (and their more successful attempts to contain the demon within). There are trailers for this film and others by Lionsgate. Director Ole Bornedal provides a very serious commentary for the film. However, the writers Juliet Snowden and Stile White provide a separate, more light-hearted commentary that contains behind-the-scenes factoids.
"The Possession" is on sale January 15, 2013 and is rated PG13. Horror. Directed by Ole Bornedal. Written by Juliet Snowden, Stiles White. Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick.