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The "Diet Coke" of exorcism movies; a series of missed opportunities or perhaps a Disney-appropriate version of The Exorcist
on September 3, 2012
This was okay. But Raimi fans will find no Drag Me to Hell gross-out gore and generally horror fans will not see original scenes (regarding scares), provocative possession behavior, or unique plot elements. The newer you are to the genre (or, possession or demon box movies, per se) the more you will enjoy this finely prepared, but under-seasoned meal. While perfectly competent for a horror, let's call it the "Diet Coke" of exorcism; a series of missed opportunities and pulled punches.
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), Em[ily] (Natasha Calis) and her older sister are a family recently sundered by a rather civil divorce. But when young Em becomes fond of an antique puzzle box she finds at a yard sale things start to get strange. Em becomes temperamental, graduating to obsessive about the box while apathetic (even sociopathic) of the needs or wants of others. Clyde begins to suspect a malevolent force is at work and seeks the aid of the Hasidic elders, from whom we learn about demons (or dibbuks), their specially crafted, imprisoning boxes, and exorcism.
Most truly impressive was our young Natasha Calis as Em. She did an amazing job showing us that as the demon commanded more and more of her conscious self (to the point of entirety) that underneath she was aware of her uncharacteristic, marionetted actions. Her expressive eyes were the key. Somehow malevolent on the possessed outside, while only thinly veiling the sadness and desperation of the scared child trapped within behind the evil veneer. As her desperate and fearful father, Jeffrey Dean Morgan also does a spectacular job as the serial-recipient of her cold, lifeless gazes. But all of this amazing tone contributed to only minor tension with no real follow-through. The scares really weren't there for me--not even a bit, short of being taken off guard by blaring loud noises which, while a classic tactic, should come with a little more than just a lone, pounding instrumental note. I feel like they pulled too many punches--or simply didn't have the muscle to throw them in the first place. No exorcism should be devoid of offensive material, but this movie was completely inoffensive. This is really like an Exorcist-lite movie; the "Diet Coke" of exorcism movies; a series of missed opportunities or, perhaps even, a Disney-appropriate version of The Exorcist. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however. That is, unless, you enjoy R-rated horror movies. Some PG-13's pull it off--this one didn't.
The only truly unique moment of the film was a brief scene of moths hurricaning around Em's bedroom. Everything else has been done before--not that I'm suggesting it's easy to produce something you've never seen in a horror flick nowadays. The exorcism scene in the end is stunningly similar, even copied, to that of The Unborn (2008), as is the general Jewish demon premise (with a few tweaks).
To the seasoned viewer, this film might come off as at least a little bit boring when the filmmakers aren't trying to scare you with loud noises (and little clout to back them). I kept feeling a bit of the Sam Raimi vibe, but just when I thought it would hit with something shocking, gastro-intestinally gross and gory, or totally twisted--it wouldn't happen! Instead I just got dirty Ring-Grudge hands, a swarm zombie moths, whited-out "possessed" eyes, and a bunch of child-gone-wrong temper tantrums. There were also some significant plot holes--not that that's a surprise in a horror film--which didn't even get a nod. For example, something awful happens to Stephanie's boyfriend and he vanishes from the movie, then everyone behaves as if he was never there whereas earlier he was playing a father-replacement role much to Clyde's chagrin. Then there was the fact that there was a horribly bandaged woman in the house where they bought the dibbuk box--ever think to go ask them about it before turning to obscure experts? I saw the ending coming from a mile away but, as a serious horror fan, I still appreciated the oft-told ominous closing message.
In the end this was a perfectly competent, well-acted horror film with a less common spin on a quite common story. A little too light for my taste, but heavy-handed horror and sacrilegious scenarios are not for everyone. If you are "not everyone" then maybe this very PG possession movie is for you.
SIDBAR: This movie is a slightly different take on The Unborn (2009), in which Odette Annabel/Yustman is plagued by her unborn Dibbuk demon twin--not The Unborn (1991), in which a woman has a mutant, murderous baby a la It's Alive (1974, 2008 remake). On that note, let's just snuff out the fact that sooo many people are thrilled to see "this new take" on "the first Jewish exorcism" movie. It's not. It's at least the second and is basically a reboot with some scenes remade from The Unborn. This movie is also in no way related to the ultra-weird and cerebral Possession (1981, with Sam Neil).
BIPOLAR REVIEWS: Hop on to IMDB as scan the already numerous reviews and you'll find that everyone is loving or loathing this flick. My guess is that the loathers have seen far more horror flicks than the lovers.