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Film Notes, Reviews

The Possession

My Empire review of dybbuk movie The Possession is online.

The Possession

Some more detailed, if spoilery, notes on the film …

The last dybbuk movie was the negligible The Unborn, which was sort of a Jewish Rosemary’s Baby effort; this is more in line with The Exorcist, though there’s quite a bit of Paranormal Activity (albeit without the found footage schtick) thrown in, along with the usual spurious ‘based on a true story’ gambit.  It opens with a woman having her back broken by a supernatural force, just like the last Paranormal Activity film, then goes a familiar route … divorced Dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) buys a new house in a developing area (not much is made of the lack of neighbours) so he can have his daughters Em (Natasha Callis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) over at the weekends while his ex Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) cosies up to an odious orthodontist (Grant Show).  At a yard sale, Em falls in love with a wooden box from the home of the back-snap lady and it’s bought for her – the box is a possession in the sense that it’s Em’s property and causes a possession in that it contains a confined evil spirit which begins the process of taking over the little girl, prompting her to obsessive creepinesses like stabbing Daddy’s hand with a fork and lingering with her hair over her face Sadako-style, having weird CGI grudge-things like fingers poking under her skin and rolling her eyes and a face showing up on her MRI scan, acting out cruelly as if in extreme response to the family break-up, abandoning her pro-vegetarian project to chew raw meat from the fridge and do all the things possessees do in these films.  A teacher is an early casualty, though the death count is low – even if the dentist claws out all his own teeth and disappears from the film.

Having been through the usual stages of diagnosis and disbelief, Clyde takes the box to a gloating anthropology lecturer (Jay Brazeau) who gives him some backstory about dybbuk boxes, leading him to hook up with a wry rabbi exorcist (Matishyahu) who does some chanting in the climax, which involves the Exorcisty bit of Dad taking the evil spirit into himself for a bit, before Em is freed.  In a coda, the exorcist is smitten by a truck before he can get the box to safety – so it’s all up in the air again.  Ole Bornedal has made most of his interesting pictures (Nightwatch, The Substitute, Deliver Us From Evil) in Danish; like the Nightwatch remake, this is a little formulaic and bland, hitting all the beats of other Ghosthouse productions (The Grudge, Boogeyman, The Messengers – all of which had d-t-DVD follow-ups).  It’s competently scripted by Juliet Snowman and Stiles White (Boogeyman, Knowing – projected remakes of The Birds and Poltergeist), though the little girl who keeps telling her father ‘don’t touch my box’ or making other unfortunate statements using the word ‘box’ gets dirty-minded laughs from too many of us, and the performances are solid (Callis does a standard but good possessed little girl bit and Morgan is an earnest, okay everyguy lead).

The anecdote that inspired this involved a haunted box sold on ebay rather than in a yard sale, so it’s odd that this should drop the up-to-the-minute tech for folksiness – though, on the way out, I heard some techies sneering at the absurdity of a very minor plot element to do with the ex-wife still getting her husband’s emails.  But it’s really, really familiar … if miles better than The Unborn.  I have the 1937 film of the Yiddish play The Dybbuk, which may stand as the definitive dybbuk movie, unless it’s the prologue of A Serious Man.

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