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Demonic-possession film - this time with Hasidim

About the movie
The Possession
Genre:
Horror; Suspense, Thriller
MPAA rating:
PG-13
for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences
Running time:
01:31
Release date:
2012
Rating:
Cast:
Natasha Calis; Grant Show; Rob LaBelle; Agam Darshi; Jeffrey Dean Morgan; John Cassini; Quinn Lord; Madison Davenport; Nana Gbewonyo; Kyra Sedgwick
Directed by:
Ole Bornedal

Danish director Ole Bornedal (I Am Dina, Deliver Us From Evil) has made some fine films in his career. The Possession isn't one of them.

The latest in an endless stream of Exorcist retreads churned out since William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece, Bornedal's dispiritingly unscary pic is a slick, efficient piece of hokum about a 10-year-old girl; a gnarly demon with gnarled fingers who has grown way too fond of her; her perennially worried, recently divorced parents; and a charming, bon mots-dispensing Hasidic-scholar-and-part-time-exorcist. Hasidic?

In a variation on a theme, the existential smackdown in The Possession isn't Catholic-flavored but Jewish. And why not? All three Abrahamic faiths have some version of the ritual. And the last noteworthy film in the genre, 2010's The Last Exorcism, featured an evangelical Protestant.

Sadly, this is the only novel aspect of Bornedal's dud.

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  • Set in upstate New York, The Possession stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick as the divorced couple Clyde and Stephanie.

    She's working hard to move on, having added to her wardrobe a psychotically chipper passive-aggressive dentist named Brett (Grant Show) who dotes on her much in the manner of a poodle.

    Clyde, a manboy college basketball coach, is a melancholy fatalist, forever stuck in the past. Morgan and Sedgwick are good together, forever skirting each other in a tender, if sad and awkward dance. They clash when it comes to their two daughters, the whiny teenage rebel Hannah (Madison Davenport) and the eminently huggable Emily (Natasha Calis). Clyde spoils them, leaving Stephanie to play the disciplinarian.

    The family's shattered life fragments further when Emily buys a wicked-looking (and, wicked) antique wooden box covered in foreboding patterns and inscribed with Hebrew script. 

    Inside the box, Emily finds a bunch of small wooden boxes filled with creepy objects - an intact molar with long, clawlike roots; a dead (or is it?), desiccated, and mummified moth; tufts of human hair. Creepier still, Emily finds these tokens of death and decay charming.

    There's a whole moth subtext in the film, which features numerous scenes of a stupefied Emily surrounded by preternatural moth activity. (But why moths? Why?)

    It's not long before Emily is taken over by a malevolent spirit called a dybbuk. She acquires a killer temper - and a murderous temperament.

    Enter the exorcist, Tzadok, who is played with delightfully hammy élan by Hasidic hip-hop and reggae rhymester Matisyahu. He chants and incants, then chants some more incantations.

    The rest, you've seen 100 times already.

    The Possession has none of the suspense that made Bornedal's morgue thriller Deathwatch such shuddering good fun. And despite the absurdly overwrought Bernard Herrmann-esque score, it has very few genuine shocks.

    Sure, the film is well-crafted, well-paced, well-shot, and well-acted. But it's, well, so very bland.


    Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynew.com.

    Tirdad Derakhshani Inquirer Sideshow Columnist
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