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"THE POSSESSION"
(2012) (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A divorced dad tries to save his daughter, who has been possessed by a demon.
PLOT:
Clyde (JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN) is a college basketball coach in upstate New York. He is also a newly divorced dad who gets his daughters on the weekends. Clyde still has a mostly good relationship with teenage Hannah (MADISON DAVENPORT) and 11-year-old Emily (NATASHA CALIS), even though he is secretly applying to become a Division I coach in North Carolina and continues to argue with their mom and his ex-wife, Stephanie (KYRA SEDGWICK), over his shortcomings as a man.

On the way home one Sunday afternoon, Clyde and his kids stop at a yard sale to buy some dishes for Clyde's newly purchased house. Emily is drawn to a mysterious antique box that seemingly whispers to her. She becomes strangely attached to it and starts to exhibit odd, anti-social behavior. Clyde comes to suspect that an evil force is at work when his daughter's behavior takes several violent turns, including an attack on Stephanie's new boyfriend, Brett (GRANT SHOW).

He eventually enlists the aid of a young rabbi named Tzadok (MATISYAHU), who believes Emily has become possessed by an evil spirit that someone decades earlier managed to trap in the Dybbuk Box (a Jewish folk legend). The only way to save Hannah is to command the demon out of her and back into the box.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
There is no denying that "The Possession" is a pretty obvious retread of "The Exorcist," complete with a female child seized by a malevolent spirit that forces her to say and do things against her will. There is a grieving parent eager to turn to someone - anyone - to help her after realizing the problem goes beyond modern medicine. And there is the holy man eager to do battle with the demon in a climactic exorcism. One good-hearted soul even grabs the girl at one point and implores the evil force to "come into me!"

There is also no denying that "The Possession" had a great opportunity to differentiate itself from "The Exorcist" in that the demon and the device in which it was ensnared - an antique Dybbuk box - has its roots in the Jewish faith. Yes, this could have been the Jewish "Exorcist!" And it would have been highly interesting to see that explored. Unfortunately, director Ole Bornedal and crew don't get around to THAT aspect of the film until the story's third act. Until then, it's been a pretty routine horror-thriller of one little girl possessed and the family's slow realization that all is not right with her.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as divorced dad Clyde, a college basketball coach who has spent too much time caring about his players, winning games, and taking the next step to the Division I level than being a good father and husband. He now has his daughters Hannah and Emily (Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis, respectively) on weekends while his ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) has moved on with a hunky orthodontist (Grant Show from "Melrose Place").

On the way home one Sunday, his girls convince him to stop at a yard sale to buy some dishes for his bachelor kitchen. What they buy is an antique box that harbors the demon in question. Emily develops an unnatural attachment to the box, which she claims talks to her. What does it tell her? Well, mostly to break her diet. But it also kills her sixth-grade teacher, too. Soon, Emily is completely possessed and Clyde is the only one who can see it. He eventually seeks the help of a young rabbi (played by Matisyahu) to drive the demon back into its box.

The beats of the story are too familiar to anyone who has seen "The Exorcist" or the dozen or so pretenders that have followed in the decades since. It's too bad really, because there are a couple of scenes in this flick that would become classics if they were part of a more compelling film. In particular, there is a tremendously creepy MRI scene where Stephanie becomes a believer when she actually sees the evil female spirit swirling around in her daughter's insides. I also like a smaller scene earlier when Emily and her dad are having a meal in a diner, and Emily is powering down the food. The girl then asks for more, adding in a brief devil voice, "She's hungry!"

"The Possession" will make a decent Friday night video or On-Demand rental that could deliver a fair amount of creeps with your TV room's lights turned down low and the surround sound on. Just don't ask too many questions like I did. Questions like: "After the dad discovers the box is to blame, why doesn't he go back to the house where he bought it and ask some questions?" Or, how about, "What was the deal with all of the moths? Was it the demon's way of possessing or were they just creepy-crawlies for the sake of creepy-crawlies?"

And, again, the real potential distinguishing element of this film - the Jewish angle - is barely a factor. You learn nothing about the rabbi who comes to help Clyde and his family. He's just a plot device. At least Father Merrin in "The Exorcist" had a history with the demon. He came from a real place of fear and knowledge. And he was afforded some great dialogue that truly humanized the character. I guess that extra level of character work is what I missed most here. Some good scares, but not enough to pay full admission price. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 28, 2012 / Posted August 31, 2012


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