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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Possession | Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis, Kyra Sedgwick, Grant Show, Matisyahu, Madison Davenport | Review

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The Possession


If you think this is another one of those gothic horror movies where a priest is called in to exorcise a demon from an innocent victim, think again. The church, crucifixes, holy water, and a power struggle between Satan and Jesus do not figure into this story.  A malevolent spirit invades the body of a vulnerable ten year old, but in this scenario, Jewish folklore, not Christian beliefs, come into play.

According to the words that pop up on screen during the film's opening, The Possession is supposedly based on a true story of what one family experienced over the course of 29 days.  In doing my own research I discovered that the husband and wife screenwriting team of Juliet Snowden and Stiles White drew their inspiration from a Los Angeles Times article in 2004 written by Leslie Gorstein about a dybbuk box from Poland in WW ll that was offered for sale on Ebay resulting in dire consequences.

Produced by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead franchise, Spiderman 2) and directed by Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal (1997's Nightwatch), the movie, a blend of family drama and supernatural thriller, stars handsome Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who resembles a cross between Robert Downey Jr. and a young Sean Connery in his “007” days) as Clyde Brenek, a college basketball coach and father of two young daughters, Hannah (Madison Davenport, 2008's "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) and Em (Natasha Calis). Recently divorced due to being an absentee, irresponsible husband and parent, Clyde moves into his own new home where his bitter ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick, 2012's "Man on a Ledge", TV's The Closer) ) agrees to let him take the girls for weekends.

During a weekend outing, 10 year old Em talks her dad into stopping at a yard sale where she spots a wooden box with mysterious carvings on it and has Clyde buy it for her. Bad decision by the guilt ridden Dad, who only wants to make his daughter happy. The good deed winds up being a big mistake when Em finding herself continually drawn to the box and obsessed with it. Soon she begins to act weird, displaying radical changes in her personality. At school she shows unusual behavior, distancing herself from classmates, and becoming violent.

Daddy clearly sees that something is terribly wrong with his little girl while Stephanie, who is in a new relationship with orthodontist, Brett (Grant Show), blames Em's behavior on having a hard time adjusting to her parent's breakup and new living arrangements.  As Em becomes uncontrollable and unexplainable events begin to escalate, Clyde, desperate for help, turns to a college professor who tells him about the dybbuk box, which traps and contains a dislocated evil spirit eager to find and inhabit a human host, only to feed from it and suck its life force. Hebrew inscriptions on the outside of the box warn not to open it, IF you can interpret the lettering.

What Clyde needs is an expert. Driving from his upstate New York home to an Orthodox community in Brooklyn, he finds that in the form of Tsadok (real life Hassidic rap star Matisyahu) the son of the chief Rabbi who offers to perform an exorcism to banish the dybbuk from Em's body and send it back into its box.

Except for the Jewish angle, which is an interesting twist, the story follows the same old formula  consisting of familiar plot devices including a disbelieving spouse who has to experience some terrifying behavior on her own before she come to her senses, and the need for a powerful outside interference. There is little we haven't seen before such as dark or dimly lit rooms, frightening whispers when noone is around and physical manifestations from the entity residing in its host, yet there are indeed a few very spooky, make that creepy, well orchestrated scenes that will put a chill down your spine.

The Possession may not be original, but it is done well, with the highlight being Natasha Cali's powerful, multifaceted performance and expressive face in which she delivers a convincing range of varied emotions that run the gamut from sweet vegetarian to growling, carnivorous beast. The likeable Jeffrey Dean Morgan is also very good, lending credence to the role of sympathetic, desperate father who would do anything to protect the daughter he loves.

Definitely not a gore fest, the film it is more about what you don't see than what you do.  Call the Possession yet another take on The Exorcist. But, I have to give the filmmakers credit for one thing  -   thinking outside of the box, which in this case, takes on a whole new meaning.

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