Friday, August 31, 2012

In Theaters: THE POSSESSION (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Ole Bornedal.  Written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White.  Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu, Grant Show, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport, Jay Brazeau. (PG-13, 92 mins)

It's been nearly 40 years since the release of THE EXORCIST, and the knockoffs show no signs of slowing down.  Produced by Sam Raimi, THE POSSESSION is better than most, with an experienced figure behind the camera in veteran Danish horror/suspense director Ole Bornedal (1994's NIGHTWATCH and its 1998 US remake), but except for one nicely-done scare and some impressive production design, there's little here we haven't seen before.  Written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White (KNOWING), THE POSSESSION utilizes most of the standard-issue possession motifs (or as much as its PG-13 rating will allow) fused with more J-Horror imagery (are we done with this yet?), and relies too much on loud crashes and piercing music cues in place of actual tension and scares.  However, Bornedal does a nice job establishing an unexpected, almost European look to the film in the early going (featuring the most Kubrickian-looking basketball practice gym you'll ever see), with some impressive camera movements and lighting and lots of interesting technical aspects that, for a while, set THE POSSESSION apart from the usual DTV-level time-killer that it eventually becomes.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan dares to open the Dybbuk box.
In this "true story" (inspired by a 2003 eBay listing) set in upstate New York, college basketball coach Clyde Brenek (a strong performance by the underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is recently divorced from ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and gets his daughters--Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Emily (Natasha Calis)--on the weekends.  The girls, particularly Emily, are having some difficulty with the disruption in their lives, and things get really complicated when Clyde and the girls stop at a yard sale and Emily is drawn to a mysterious, sealed wooden box with strange lettering carved into it.  Emily soon becomes slavishly devoted to and fiercely protective of the box, and often erupts in violence if anyone comes near it.  After Emily has a shrieking fit where she repeatedly smacks herself in the face, Clyde is accused of abusing her and Stephanie gets a restraining order.  When Stephanie and her new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show) start observing Emily's continued strange behavior, Clyde does some research and finds out the lettering on the box is Hebrew, and seeks the guidance of Tzadok (Hasidic reggae beatboxer Matisyahu), who turns out to be the demonic possession genre's hippest exorcist.  Tzadok says the box is a Dybbuk Box, used to house an ancient Jewish demon called the "dybbuk."  Tzadok defies the wishes of his elderly rabbi father and agrees to perform an exorcism on Emily.

Natasha Calis as the possessed Emily
The "dybbuk" is an interesting concept, and it's handled better here than in the 2009 film THE UNBORN, which featured Gary Oldman as a rabbi who battles a dybbuk by blowing into a shofar  The casting of Matisyahu as the exorcist is a distraction that's hard to get over, but he has a loose and engaging presence that makes one wish he had more screen time.  THE POSSESSION's problems start when the script begins requiring otherwise intelligent characters to start behaving stupidly.  Clyde should be a little more alarmed when Emily stabs him with a fork at breakfast for no reason.   Why is it that parents of possessed children in movies are always way too slow on the uptake when it comes to these matters?  Haven't any of these people seen THE EXORCIST? 

Madison Davenport and Kyra Sedgwick
There's also stupid contrivances that are there only to advance the plot in the easiest way possible.  In one scene, Emily is on the phone with Clyde and asking him if the box is OK and telling him to not to go near it (it's at his house).  In the next scene, Emily has the box with her at school and attacks a classmate who tries to steal it from her. Emily is sent home and the box is left at school. That night, the dybbuk attacks and kills Emily's teacher (this film's obligatory Burke Dennings stand-in), who's there, alone, late at night, grading papers next to a tiny lamp at her desk.  Are the screenwriters even trying?  Does this woman not have a home?  With better lighting?  Also, what happens to Brett?  He's last seen being attacked by a possessed Emily as all of his teeth start falling out, then getting into his car and driving it in reverse as Emily has a seizure on the front lawn and Hannah calls 9-1-1, and they're off to the hospital. Where does Brett go?  Is he dead?  Alive and still driving around in reverse, all bloody and toothless?  I'm glad Grant Show is getting paid post-MELROSE PLACE, but his character is so irrelevant that even the filmmakers forget about him.

Exorcist Tzadok (Matisyahu) tries to save Emily
When the script isn't dumbing things down, Bornedal and his regular cinematographer Dan Laustsen have a great-looking film on their hands.  And I liked the little shout-outs to past demonic possession films, like Emily's right eye moving on its own while the other stares straight ahead (from the 1975 Italian EXORCIST ripoff BEYOND THE DOOR) and a nicely-CGI'd swarm of moths surrounding a still Emily that looked a lot like the climactic bird attack in the 1979 OMEN/CLOSE ENCOUNTERS-inspired cult classic THE VISITOR).  There is one very good, almost great jolt when Emily is getting an MRI and something pops up unexpectedly in the resulting scan.  Those bits, Bornedal's direction, and the fine performances by both Morgan and Calis nudge THE POSSESSION a bit beyond the typical genre offering, but after a while, it's done in by a script that just feels illogical and half-baked.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering about Brett to..it was weird he was never mentioned again.