After a disturbing prologue, in which an old lady is apparently assaulted by a telekinetic wooden box, we cut to a typical suburban yard garage sale. Recently divorced dad Clyde Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is buying knick knacks for his two girls, pre-teen Em (Natasha Calis) and sullen middle schooler Hannah (Madison Davenport).
Wouldn't you know it, Em picks out the very same box from the prologue and brings it home. All manner of trouble ensues, including moth infestations, dead teachers and demonic assaults.
The Possession recycles elements from a dozen previous horror films and falls into the category of what I call 'The Spooky Little Girl Movie'. William Friedkin's 1973 The Exorcist pioneered the genre, and it has yet to be equaled.
Like other recent specimens of the 'Spooky Little Girl Movie' (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite, The Last Exorcism), the movie features startling images and grave scenes of worried parents consulting with sage occult experts.
Predictability isn't necessarily a problem in this genre, though, as you pretty much know what you're getting into by looking at the DVD box art. The Possession switches things up a bit by introducing the concept of the dibbuk box, a Hebrew ritual artifact used to trap the souls of troublesome demons. Clyde eventually seeks help from a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, where he in joined by the young exorcist Tzadok (played by Hasidic hip-hip/reggae artist Matisyahu. Seriously.)
The movie's best moments concern Jewish folklore and bizarro backstory of the dibbuk box. The Possession is ostensibly based on a true story of the real haunted wine cabinet, which according to legend has a history dating back to the Holocaust in Poland.
The film also features an impressive performance from 13-year-old Natasha Calis as Em. Calis can flip from sweet and vulnerable to seriously menacing – in the manner of teenagers everywhere, I suppose – and she has a couple scenes that really elevate the film. Also look for Kyra Sedgwick as the girls' mom, understandably freaked out by her daughter's lethal mood swings.
The Possession will never make the list of horror classics, but it's a surprisingly effective and largely bloodless scary movie that avoids violence and cheap shock scares. That PG-13 rating doesn't mean it's safe for kids, though. The movie has some very scary imagery (watch out for the X-ray scene) and heavy family trauma scenes.
Extras: Commentary track with the director and writers plus the documentary, The Real History of the Dibbuk Box. This doc is profoundly underwhelming, and if you want to preserve the "true story" illusion of the film, I suggest you skip it entirely.
Also New This Week:
Taken 2: Liam Neeson continues his late-career renaissance as action hero in this sequel to the 2008 thriller, which was a surprise box office hit. Neeson plays an ex-CIA officer whose family is threatened by international bad guys.
To Rome With Love: Director Woody Allen's latest comedy stars Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni and Greta Gerwig in four interrelated vignettes.
Detropia: One of last year's best documentaries, Detropia profiles the terrifying economic decline of the city of Detroit and the resilient spirit of its people.
Farewell, My Queen: Diane Kruger stars as Marie Antionette in French director Benoit Jacquot's critically acclaimed historical drama.
The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alfred Hitchcock's early-career suspense thriller stars Peter Lorre is his first English-speaking role.
The Other Dream Team: The award-winning indie documentary tells the story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, who went from brutal Communist rule to Olympic gold. (Well, bronze, but still.)
TV-on-DVD: Season collections from HBO's Life's Too Short and Ray Ramano's underrated sitcom Men of a Certain Age.
Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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