What if, instead of centering around Roman Catholics, The Exorcist had centered around orthodox Judaism instead? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question (and I know I haven’t), Posession is the movie for you.
In this case, the demonic spirit comes to an unsuspecting young girl, Hannah (played by a very Lohan-esque looking Natasha Kalis) via a dybbuk box. You may remember a few years back, some wag put a dybbuk box up for sale, claiming to have suffered various ill effects from the spirits within. Well, Leslie Gornstein wrote an article about it for the L.A. Times, and Juliet Snowden and Stiles White turned it into the screenplay for this flick.
Based on a true story, right?
Anyway, Hannah’s parents (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick) have recently divorced and dad’s moved into a spooky new exurban tract home where most of the action takes place, even though it’s the girl and the box that are the issue. Unpopular with Hannah and her big sister (played by the impossibly-named Madison Davenport) is smarmy new guy, Grant Show (in a thankless role you know isn’t going to turn out well).
The exorcist is played by the “Hasidic Reggae Supertar” Matisyahu, whom I would’ve sworn was someone from the Apatow crowd with a long beard. But it’s a small role.
What we have here is an updated Exorcist, stripped of any theological depth, and of any special effects that might give it an R rating. It’s not quite the Hawaiian curse episode of “The Brady Bunch” but in steering away from most of the unpleasant aspects of possession, what you end up with is a movie that’s probably easier to watch, but more of a thriller than a horror flick. (Since the underpinning is still horror, though, it’s a thriller without any of the laws of physics or causality.)
It’s not bad. It’s just not very good, either. I got a small kick out of mentally cataloging all the similarities between this and The Exorcist, most of which weren’t really necessary. In the older, better movie, the divorce was critical to the story, for example. In this movie, it’s just a thing. For example, at one point the father is supposed to have hit the Hannah; this doesn’t really develop, though.
At one point, they go to the hospital for an MRI, like in the original. Only one thing comes of this, and then the movie ends up playing out in the hospital, with all kinds of chaos and heck breaking loose, but with absolutely no staff or other people around somehow.
There’s actually a lot of stuff like that in this movie: Ideas that are things but just sort of sit there. The dybbuk box itself starts out pretty strong and is critical to the movie, but for something that might have been used to create some suspense, it spends most of the middle of the movie feeling like a prop.
Dad is not around because he’s a sports coach, except when he is, which by the very structure of the movie is necessarily all the time—he’s basically the main character—so that whole angle doesn’t really pan out.
It’s just feels shallow and unambitious, which is an unfortunate thing to mix with “blatant clone of classic film”. It’s not horrible or anything and, much like House at the End of the Street, it could easily be on TV and you could watch it during dinner without worrying about being grossed out or even particularly jumpy.
Kyra Sedgwick was really good, though. She’d been playing “The Closer” for so long, I practically forgot she was playing a character. She plays a completely different sort of character here.