The Exorcist-Lite with a Hebrew twist, The Possession is an earnest attempt at a family drama masquerading as a horror movie, one that is ultimately rendered toothless by overly familiar tropes and a emasculating PG-13 rating.
Part of The Possession‘s gimmick is that it is allegedly based on a true story, one that is much more interesting than the completely unrelated tale told in the movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is at the center of the infernal action as Clyde Brenek, a recently divorced father of two pre-teen girls, Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Emily (Natasha Calis). Clyde’s trying his hardest to make the best of an unfortunate situation, though his efforts truly go to hell when he visits the wrong yard sale and purchases an unusual wooden box for Emily.
As (bad) luck would have it, the thing is a prison of sorts for a Dybbuk, a malevolent spirit from Judaic folklore that naturally wants out. Before long, Emily begins alternating between violent outbursts, strange illnesses, and general creepiness; Clyde and ex-wife Stephanie seek help from Hasidic rabbi Tzadok (musician Matisyahu) for an exorcism.
There’s a lot of potential from both the alleged true events (the details of which are way more interesting than anything presented here) and the Amityville Horror-esque haunting of an average family, but the script (by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White) mines little of it. Instead, they and director Ole Bornedal are content to trade Judaism for Catholicism and moths for pea soup, and to coast on cheap gotcha scares and a complete lack of the emotional intensity or shock value that enables William Friedkin’s aforementioned benchmark movie to still pack a punch 40 years later.
Surprisingly, it was produced by Sam Raimi, who cut his teeth on classic horror schlock before going Hollywood. His flicks were often cartoony, but showed a better grasp for style and effect than the droning piano chords presented here. Apparently the movie was re-cut after receiving an initial “R” rating from the MPAA; one can’t help but wonder if there’s a better, version movie out their somewhere. If so, cut your losses and wait for it to show up on DVD.