From Danish director Ole Bornedal (The Substitute), The Possession tells the supposedly true story of an already fractured and disjointed family that gets ravaged when the youngest daughter unwittingly becomes the owner of a Dibbuk box, a Jewish spirit container that houses a malevolent demon. The daughter ends up accidentally opening the box and consequently becomes inhabited by the now free evil spirit, causing her parents and sister to frantically search for a way to save her.
At its core, The Possession is a haunted child / exorcism movie that strays from the conventional plot by turning the villain spirit into one of Jewish faith as opposed to the standard Catholic version of this tale. Indeed, the movie falls in line with what you would expect; it hits all of the notes associated with exorcism movies, trading stiff black priest collars with yarmulkes and bibles with torahs, but keeps the harrowed father (played well by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in his maniacal quest to save his daughter. The movie succeeds in navigating the line between the “creepy atmospheric sense of impending doom” bits and the “in your face scary” bits without overdoing it. Key to this is the excellent job done by Natasha Calis, who plays the haunted Em. Her portrayal is very open and sincere, which is what makes the movie human and relatable. Another surprising performance turned in by the reggae rabbi himself, Matisyahu, as the rabinnical exorcist Tzadok. Although not as convincing an exorcist as, say, Max Von Sydow, Matisyahu sings in a movie that probably has no room for a singing rabbi (and I don’t mean sing as in what you have to do when you’re a rabbi, I mean sing like when you’re sitting down with headphones in your ears and rocking out to your favorite tunes, as he’s doing when you first see him in the movie…I know, I know…).
The Possession works as a horror movie, although one that fans of the genre have definitely seen before. What makes it worthwhile is the great job done by the cast and the excellent interplay between the subtle eerie moments and the big scary parts. Having Sam Raimi as a producer also helps, as his influence upon horror movie sensibilities are definitely visible at times. In a time when horror movies are giving their fans airbrushed teen models jumping at shadows, The Possession thankfully gives horror fans something to sink their teeth into.
The Possession opens today in Philly-area theaters.