A horror film from Sam Raimi is always a must see for me so I’ve been looking forward to this since I first heard about it. For this film Sam seems to have reigned in his wild imagination and though it is a good solid film it’s nothing special and not as much as I would have hoped from the creator of The Evil Dead films.
The film introduces us to the dybbuk box kept on shelf of an elderly woman. Just from her reaction to the box and whispering sound of her name from inside we can tell that it’s malevolent. She is about take a hammer a spike to the box when it attacks back, and her face hangs loose like she’s had a stroke. Then her body seizes and she has a violent fit that smashes her face into a table and throws her around the floor.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a basketball coach who is divorced and has joint custody of his two daughters, 12-year-old Em (Natasha Calis) who is bright chatty and cheerful and 16 year-old Hannah (Madison Davenport) who puts on a pose of disinterest. The one dark spot in Em’s life is her parents’ divorce and she still has hope that they will get together again. When Hannah casually crushes that hope at dinner it really affects Em badly and it’s like light goes out inside her. She leaves quietly and Clyde tells off Hannah for talking to her like that. Hannah’s indifference falls away to reveal her anger at him for the divorce.
Next morning they go to a yard sale and Em spots the dybbuk box and right away wants to buy it and Clyde agrees. This is the yard of the old woman from the start of the film and we see her in her bedroom badly injured and tended by a nurse. Em is interested in the box because of the mysterious Hebrew inscription on its surface and it doesn’t have any obvious way of opening it. When they get home Em is impatient to get the box open and see what’s rattling around inside but Clyde gets distracted by a phone call about a job interview so Em takes the box up to her room and finds the catch that opens the box which sighs as she lifts the lid.
Em’s behaviour starts gets increasingly strange and she gets more obsessed with the box. Clyde and his ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) at first think Em is reacting to the divorce and Stephanie’s new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show) but her behaviour gets more violent when Clyde tries to get rid of the box and Stephanie gets granted sole custody by the court when Em fakes being hit by him.
Clyde investigates the box and is told that it’s a dybbuk box used by some sects of Judaism and it’s meant to contain a spirit and it’s not supposed to be opened because then it can escape and possess people. Clyde is sure that is what has happened to Em and he has to get her exorcised before the dybbuk takes her over completely.
This is really just another exorcism film only it’s from a Jewish perspective so it’s a rabbi not a priest they need. It plays out with very few surprises for me and although it does a good job building up the tension the exorcism at climax of the film was not as epic or brutal as the one in The Exorcist, but I suppose very few films can reach that high standard. The more modern effects do look good but they are missing the visceral horror of old-fashioned gunk.
The cast are pretty good and Natasha Calis in particular is very good but it is the type of family drama by numbers: divorce, tension between parents and between them and their children, a new partner, job commitments. I did enjoy the film but I was surprised by how ordinary it was. It claims to be based on a true story and I think I can see what elements were true: a superstitious man may have believed that his daughter’s illness was caused by a demon from a box and he sought help from a rabbi to exorcise it. If you want an exorcism film that is not too intense you may like this one
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Review: The Possession, 2012, dir. Ole Bornedal (agcrump.wordpress.com)
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis Talk THE POSSESSION (collider.com)
- John’s Horror Corner: The Possession (2012) (moviesfilmsandflix.com)