With exorcism movies having already flooded the market over the last few years, new ones have to find all sorts of ways to stand out in the crowd. The Possession turns to Hebrew folklore and imagery to give the film a semblance of distinction. Look past that, however, and it’s pretty much the same movie we’ve seen dozens of times before. The Possession is capably shot, but it ends up falling back on lazy contrivance to complete the all-too-familiar feature.
Divorced father Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is spending the weekend with his daughters Hannah and Emily (Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis). They visit a yard sale where Emily picks up a strange looking box with carvings all over it. Once she gets it open, strange things start happening around the house. Emily grows distant and violent, and her obsession with the box becomes worrisome. Clyde eventually figures out what the box really is, and he’s soon on a quest to find some way to save his daughter from being consumed from within.
The movie begins by proclaiming that it is all based on a true story, which is a bit of a stretch. Had the film actually stuck closer to the elements of the story surrounding the Dybbuk box, it wouldn’t be an exorcism movie. But it is. The film ends up just going through the motions as it applies the generic and overly familiar exorcist movie tropes. The only difference is that the movie takes its cue from Judaism rather than Christianity this time. Instead of cathedrals and priests, we get a shul and rabbi. But the change is mainly cosmetic, the substance of the film remaining largely the same.
The film does manage to produce a couple of intriguing images. The poster pretty much gives away the film’s big scare, but it still ends up looking pretty cool. Cool enough that it makes you wish the editing was a little more forgiving. Horror tends to work best when it lingers on its terrifying images, forcing audience to confront their fears. The film is prone to cutting away too quickly, only offering brief glimpses of the terror within. The movie also suffers from a glaring continuity error. Pay attention to Hannah’s teeth in the early going, and you’ll find a mistake that should be unacceptable in a modern production.
Performances are fine for what they are. Jeffrey Dean Morgan hits all the right notes in playing a father who doesn’t quite pay enough attention to his family. His performance really serves the character well, giving it more dimension than the script provides. Kyra Sedgwick takes a thankless role as the mother, which in this movie basically translates into being the uptight one in the relationship. Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis are really promising young actresses as well. The film also features a nice little turn from reggae artist Matisyahu.
The Possession could have gone further to differentiate itself from the seemingly endless stream of exorcism movies. It could have dug deeper into the relationship of the divorced parents. It could have examined the pressures that the daughters were facing in their own lives. It could have expanded on the Jewish mythology that forms the basis of the story. The elements are already in place, but the movie decides to simply follow the rhythm of dozens of movies before, playing out a series of scenes we’ve all seen before, lacking the conviction and the courage to strike out on its own and finds its voice.