Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Kyra Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a Dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.
If they know the word at all, most moviegoers will recognize dibbuk
) from the philosophical gag that opened Joel and Ethan Coen's brilliant comedy A Serious Man
. Orthodox Jews know from their religion that a dibbuk is a spirit who wanders the world in form to haunt the living, or perhaps to take their bodies in a version of demonic possession. The dibbuk box that a young (non-Jewish) girl finds at a yard sale is definitely holding a malevolent spirit looking for a human to help escape its banishment. It is also the creepy catalyst for another effects-heavy case of Hollywood possession and exorcism in The Possession
. A recently divorced couple, Clyde and Stephanie (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) co-parent two bright daughters who share time at both their parents' houses. The younger one, Em (Natasha Calis), seems to be called by the strange box covered with Hebrew letters. When she takes it home to Daddy's house, it opens of its own accord in the night, casting a spell on her that becomes progressively more disconcerting until it ultimately possesses her completely. As much as it causes her harm (which Stephanie initially interprets as abuse by Clyde), she must always be near it. It causes some truly unpleasant phenomena, including an infestation of giant moths that swarm from her mouth, and later a ghastly series of physical horrors that unfold in a hospital morgue. Frantic for help in saving his daughter, Clyde appeals to a conclave of Hassidic rabbis, who all turn their back on the evil, save for one young man named Tzadok (Matisyahu), who feels duty bound to end the unleashed hell and get the dibbuk back in the box. Though it easily falls into the burgeoning craze of graphic exorcism and possession horror flicks, The Possession
stands out for its consistent attention to serious detail and is aided by strong performances all around. Morgan and Sedgwick are believable and sympathetic as partners who still love each other but need to be separate, even as their love for their daughters still binds them. Natasha Calis is pretty sensational in conveying all the feelings of a typical 11-year-old, but also as a being overtaken by a force that makes her psycho-crazy. As her 15-year-old sister Hannah, Madison Davenport also gives a naturalistic and sometimes heart-rending read to her part as confused, terrified observer. A practicing orthodox Jew and popular musician in real life, Matisyahu brings a level of austerity and realism to his compassionate presence as the only one who can help. The Possession
is a legitimately hair-raising genre entry, with real drama and enough effects grotesqueries to keep fanboys as well as the less fanatic aficionados happy. Note: In addition to a commentary track with the director, the disc also includes a featurette that examines the "based on a true story" epigraph. Apparently there is an actual dibbuk box, but it's far more benign than the fictionalized movie version. --Ted Fry