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Whatever Happened to Baby Em?: The Possession enhances clichés and opens Pandora’s Hasidic Box 

Jeffery Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick star in the newest horror film The Possession.

Good Lord, another exorcism movie and with the tagline, “based on true events.” Holy crap, the only thing worse is a haunted house movie with the same dubious claim. Yet The Possession achieves the near impossible; it makes us care for the two central characters Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and Emily “Em”  (Natasha Calis). This hasn’t happened since the original Exorcist where we sat on the edge of our seat out of concern for Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Jason Miller.

Filmmakers working in this horror subgenre cannot escape the inherently generic formula. All they can do is embellish on a tired old tale. Most of the time it’s done with smoke and mirrors, overdone special effects and /or piling on the bone snapping, contorting and gallons of gory blood oozing. Here, Danish Director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch, Just Another Love Story) brings some nice ambient tricks to the table while setting a somber mood amidst the stereotypical shenanigans.

But yes, there is a slew of special effects, like a hand in the larynx, swarms of moths dive-bombing into mouths, droopy eyes rolling around while turning white, an insanely stupid MRI scene. Oh, and wind; it seems all exorcism movies come with their own wind. Plus the possessed always have to barf up something—if not green pea soup or blood, then some kind of insect. In this case, it’s moths.

The thin plot mildly thickens as basketball coach Clyde, saddened by divorce, tries to keep it all together with weekend visits with his daughters (Calis and Madison Davenport) while dealing with his over-bitchy wife (Kyra Sedgwick) and her anal new boyfriend (Grant Show). Things are okay until Clyde buys Em a box at a garage sale. After that the flick can’t make up its mind if it’s a demonic box story, possession movie, or a new installment of Hellraiser. Most of all it wants to be Jewish more than anything. So following in the footsteps of The Unborn, soon we’re in Little Jerusalem, New York and the yarmulkes are flying.

The story is actually based on the article “Jinx in a Box” about a small wooden cabinet that went up for auction on eBay containing two locks of hair, one granite slab, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick and of course a “dybbuk," (literally translated as a dislocated spirit) popular in Yiddish folklore. The seller said the box was haunted and had caused bad luck and weird paranormal stunts. The prologue of the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man covered this facet of Jewish folklore, as did Gary Oldman’s rabbi in The Unborn. Of course the Coens’ version was more entertaining than this entire flick and much shorter. At this point, we get it—evil possession is not just the province of Catholicism. Jews can have demons, too.

The Possession covers all the demonic bases and leaves plenty of room for pathos and emoting by the actors, except for maybe Jewish hip hop musician and one-time Bendite, Matisyahu, who looks like he doesn’t know where he is the entire time. And thanks to the performances of Morgan and Calis, we experience their pain, sorrow and fear. Sedgwick, on the other hand, overacts every nuance she can wring out of the tepid script. My personal favorite was the brief encounter with the principal who obviously comes from the “you-gotta-look-like-a-principal” casting company.

Hokey throughout, we get glimpses of The Shining and The Omen and a great horror movie soundtrack, yet too many fades to black. The overworked lines “Em’s not here” and “Noooo…take me instead!” are actually uttered.

I get the feeling that there’s no good way to end one of these flicks and this one is no exception. Possession’s climax is a rush job exorcism in the basement of a working hospital where they make a ton of noise with caterwauling incantations, wind howling and little girls screaming. Where the hell is hospital security?

Even though Possession has all the makings of a disaster, it never veers toward campy or “so-bad-it’s-good.” Rather, it falls into the bland category of, “I’ve seen worse.” So I have to say, no harm no foul. This flick plays out with such conviction that it’s hard to fault it, even if it is an exorcism movie.

The Possession

2 Stars


Starring Jeffery Dean Morgan,
Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport,
Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Matisyahu


Directed by Ole Bornedal

Rated PG-13


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