A slightly moth-eaten Jewish version of The Exorcist from Sam Raimi's Ghost House imprint
A Jewish version of The Exorcist, The Possession is the latest entry in the minor sub-genre of horror films about the dybbuk, a malevolent spirit from Jewish folklore, familiar from David S Goyer’s The Unborn and the creepy prologue of the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. The attraction here is not Ole Bornedal, director of Danish thriller Nightwatch and its US remake, but the presence of Sam Raimi’s production company Ghost House on the credits. As with Ghost House’s disappointing Drag Me To Hell, the modern trappings of this supernatural story disguise a frustratingly traditional approach.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is undergoing a tricky separation from ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), a situation putting stress on his relationship with daughters Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis). In an effort to please Em, Clyde allows her to buy a mysterious locked box at a garage sale, but when Em discovers how to open the box up, she releases a dybukk and all hell breaks lose, metaphorically and literally.
In the era of CGI, the demonic possession is realised physically, from the moths that infest Em’s bedroom to the demon’s physical appearance on her MRI scan, an over-literal approach that provokes disbelieving laughs rather than shocks given the risible ‘based on a true story’ tagline. The Possession is on surer ground with its uniformly underplayed acting, and its treatment of Hebrew folklore, with a strong feel for New York’s Hasidic community, embodied with some panache by prospective rabbi Tzadok (Matisyahu).
By dint of its underplayed acting and serious tone, The Possession is one of the better efforts of its type, but leaves the intent of Raimi’s Ghost House in doubt; creating a new horror imprint is all well and good, but the product needs to be much more distinctive than this slightly moth-eaten effort.
General release from Fri 31 Aug.