'The Possession' fails to hold your attention

atomictown.comSeptember 2, 2012 

Sometimes, it feels like anyone can make it in the screenwriting business.

The key is to take a popular thing and give it a little tweak. Like, you know Jurassic Park? Well, you could pitch a new spin on it where a scientist makes a theme park filled with extinct mammals, and at the end of the tour, you get to eat one of them. Potential title: Jurassic Pork. Or you could write a movie that's like Jaws, except there are two sharks, and you call it Jawses.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

See how easy this is? I don't know why so many aspiring screenwriters are writing tables when gems like these are just waiting on the ground ready to be plucked up. Need more inspiration? Well, what if you took The Exorcist, but the demon was Jewish instead of Catholic? Then you'd have The Possession!

Recently divorced, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has just moved into a new house. At a garage sale, his daughter Natasha Calis brings home a strange old box that can't be opened.

That night, it opens itself. Calis soon begins to act very strange. She's moody, starving, violent. After investigating the box, Morgan learns Calis may be possessed by a dybbuk — an ancient demon that will devour its host.

The laziest way to describe The Possession is to say it's a second-rate Exorcist clone where the Catholics have been replaced by Jews. As it turns out, though, that is also the most accurate way to describe it. Man, makers of exorcism movies must hate being compared to The Exorcist by now! But if the shoe fits, then you have successfully purchased the correct pair of shoes.

And you will note I said it's a second-rate knockoff. There are many worse rates it could have been. Like, if your scale goes all the way down to 1/100th rate, second-rate is pretty awesome. Director Ole Bornedal builds a denser atmosphere than some plants. Not denser than Venus, because that place is crazy. Frankly, I don't feel safe sharing our solar system with it. But probably denser than Mars. Working with a gray-blue palette, Bornedal creates a chilly, autumnal mood well-suited to the dread of having a malevolent demon inside you.

That part's pretty good, too. Because Calis physically has a demon in her. This makes for a couple highly effective scenes of body-horror. I have now learned I never want to experience an arm crawling up my throat. I probably already knew that, but now I positively absolutely know that. Pardon me, I have a ballerina-swallowing appointment to cancel.

Also, I like Morgan's performance. And Matisyahu, who is a great actor who needs to be in much more things. Now I'm going to stop praising The Possession, because I didn't really like it.

Its worst crime is it's deeply predictable. Barring the very end, there are no surprises whatsoever. A young girl starts acting weird, the parent goes to an expert, an exorcism is performed. Along the way, the demon is perfectly able to slaughter some of the people who try to stop it, yet becomes curiously impotent when it comes down to crunch-time.

Meanwhile, the one spark of imagination it has going for it — instead of Catholic mythology, it uses Jewish traditions — is left virtually unexplored. Same crap, but curly sideburns. The Possession is competent enough, I suppose. But it's just one more rip on a thoroughly ripped subgenre.

Grade: C

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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