Movie Review: The Possession by Jason Burleson

We have seen tons of them.  Horror movies that play on that primal fear.  This fear is the threat of our minds, our bodies, or even our souls becoming captured by demons or something evil.  The archetype of this type of movie, of course, is The Exorcist.  Growing up, that was THE scary movie and was probably the first rated R movie I ever saw. It sets the standard for me when trying to imagine what makes a movie scary.  I’ll be the first to admit that it takes a lot to scare me, and I’m not just saying that to sound overtly manly.  My beard says that enough for me. That being said, movies like that still have the ability to make me cringe, especially really good ones.

Based on a true story, The Possession is another one of these movies that fills that exorcism category.   I’m not going to lie and say that this movie isn’t scary. It would definitely scare a lot of people.  Produced by Sam Raimi, who has produced, directed, and written several eye grabbing, stomach turning films, I had high hopes for this movie.  This film circles around the divorce of the Brenek family.  Clyde Brenek (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Watchmen) is a lost father who struggles with continuing to raise his two daughters, while trying to find closure with his wife Stefanie (Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer).  He takes his two girls Em and Hannah (Natasha Calis and Madison Davinport respectively) shopping to look for dishes for his new home.  While out, Em happens across an ornate box covered with Hebrew writing and mysteriously becomes enamored with it.   Her infatuation with the old box quickly turns violent and spirals out of control.  Clyde eventually learns the box is something called a Dybbuk Box used by those of the Jewish faith to capture and hold evil spirits.  Clyde immediately begins to seek out doctors and a rabi named Tzadok (Matisyahu) to help purge the spirit attached to and overwhelming his daughter.

After watching this movie, it took me a while to decide whether I liked it or not.  There are strong and weak sides to this film but all in all it is a decent, entertaining movie.  The” exorcism” plot line seems to be an ongoing theme in postmodern movies today.  The writers also may have found influences in The Exorcist or even Paranormal Activity, but this film does not come near their originality.  To me, the best scary movies have subtlety. A unique twist, aspect, perspective, or character may turn a horrible movie into a great one, but I found a number of problems with this film. In one word, I would describe it as cliché.  This film is highly predictable and honestly I expected more from Raimi, who seems to be taking it easy with this film.  Several times in the film, something horrible would happen, which was obviously meant to be horrible, and people in the screening would laugh. Now, maybe that’s a comment on the psychological condition of the audience but many times the fright came across as silly, and that just doesn’t happen in a quality horror/thriller film.  Second, I can usually ignore a film’s plot holes, chalking them up as movie magic, but these are overwhelming.  I found it hard to believe in the ending that no one noticed the supernatural rainstorm in the working hospital at the end of the movie.  I understand that’s debatable though.  What isn’t debatable is the fact that Sedgwick’s acting was so distracting, it kept me from relating to the characters all.

On the other side, however, the use of symbolism in this film, either intentional or otherwise, is a refreshing quality to this movie.  The clothing is a key example on Em. It progressively gets darker as she becomes more and more overwhelmed by the spirit from the box and makes it easy to understand the progression of her character.  I also found the use of Jewish pretenses and lore an interesting take on demonic possession, where normally Christian beliefs would be cut and pasted here.

This film will probably sit on the coattails of Raimi and still make a few million dollars but I have little other expectations for it.  Many scary movies have been forgotten because they failed to break the mold and separate themselves.  It’s too bad because I saw a lot of potential with the ideas behind this movie.  However, it just didn’t add up, and it left me feeling dirty like most unoriginal scary movies do. Then again, maybe it was that theater, or the sticky seat… or just that smelly guy next to me.

I give The Possession 2 “lost teeth” out of 5.

by Jason Burleson

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