The Possession

The Possession

2012, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Ole Bornedal. Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Matisyahu.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 7, 2012

Produced by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, this effective little creeper is the only Judaic pastiche of The Exorcist you're likely to see this year. That alone gives it a jump on the umpteen other evil/possessed-child films that have become a seemingly monthly genre staple of late. That it also features Hasidic rapper Matisyahu (in his film debut no less) as the Talmudic scholar who locks, um, forelocks with a restless and evil Hebraic demon known as a dybbuk is downright kosher.

Is this the start of a new subgenre? Probably not – 2009's The Unborn traded in Jewish mysticism, too – but it's considerably creepier than it has any right to be and, to be sure, righteous rabbis can be pretty terrifying in and of themselves. Matisyahu brings a spirited performance that gets pretty meshuggah in its own right, and while Bornedal's film isn't going to make any genre fans’ heads spin around, the director nonetheless delivers a fitfully jumpy entry into the already crowded kid-thing field.

Sedgwick and Morgan play the recently divorced parents of preteen Em (Calis) and her older sibling Hannah (Davenport). In between arguments with a suitably frazzled Sedgwick, dad Clyde picks up an ornate wooden box at a rummage sale as a gift for his youngest. Bad move, pops. Has no one learned anything from the Hellraiser series? Other than how to flog a dead Cenobite? Snappy-looking boxes covered in mystical symbols are always bad news, and pretty soon Em has got the thing open and, well, vice versa. Her possession is a deeply dialed-down version of Linda Blair's legendary head-turner, but Calis raises frissons with her on/off demonic inhabitant. A sequence that called for a "moth wrangler," (as noted in the film's credits) is a trippy-icky gas, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen (the atmospherically underrated Silent Hill) infuses the generally generic proceedings with a nice sense of palpable dread.

The Possession brings something new to a horror subgenre pretty much mired in rampant predictability. It's not exactly a classic of Jewish horror cinema (and is there such a thing, outside of the sleazy, literal Nazi perversions evinced by, say, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and its ilk?) but it'll do until the Messiah drops round and the plains of Megiddo go haywire yet again. Oy vey.

A correction regarding the director's previous films has been made to this review since its original publication.

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The Possession, Ole Bornedal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Matisyahu

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