Calling the horror genre “unoriginal” isn’t exactly true, as many creative innovations have been birthed throughout the decades. Yet for every original entry such as “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Thing,” there have been multiple skid marks in the form of remakes and sequels, such as the horrible “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake and the suicide-inducing “The Thing” remake/prequel/musical thing.
Needless to say, any time a new possession film is marketed, interest is piqued. Almost 40 years ago, “The Exorcist” knocked the possession sub-genre out of the park, and each senseless competitor since has never stood a chance. Every entry is held to this unattainable standard, which is just one of the reasons “The Possession” was doomed to fail. Despite bearing the legendary name of Sam Raimi as a producer, “The Possession” fails to bring anything new or unique to the genre, instead turning into a joke that can’t even pay homage to those that came before it.
Sympathetic divorced basketball coach and father, Clyde, (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has a slightly antagonistic relationship with his unforgiving terror of a wife, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). But he loves his little girls, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), so of course the audience adores him. After stumbling upon an engraved box that Em finds at a yard sale, strange things begin happening to the family, especially Em. In place of the sweet girl from before is an evil spirit that has been released from the box, which is actually a dybbuk box, believed to contain evil spirits and keep them from wrecking havoc. Clyde sets out to save Em from this demon before it can hurt her or anybody else.
Pretty standard fare for a possession movie, right? Nobody thinks to call it a possession at first, “creepy” happenings escalate as the family remains in denial, and then a climactic exorcism either saves the child or dooms the family. Fans of the genre will easily be able to spot each trite cliché, and will have no problem figuring out who is expendable and what will happen to the survivors.
Morgan gives the role his best, which is a shame since “The Possession” is well below his pay grade. The chemistry he shares with his two girls is realistic and touching, in a Lifetime Original Movie kind of way. Sedgwick, on the other hand, has possibly the worst role ever cursed upon a professional: the naggy ex-wife. No matter what Clyde does, Stephanie is there to berate him for it, reminding him that she took the house after the divorce AND has moved on to another guy (Grant Show) AND has been a better parent than him in every aspect. About four seconds after she walked on screen, every mind in the theater was probably hoping that the box would doom her to special circle of hell saved for unnecessary naggy exes.
The story tries to set itself apart in two ways: through the “true story” shtick and by remaining rooted in Jewish folklore. But nobody cares whether a film claims to be based on a “true story,” so that leaves the Jewish history lesson as the only gimmick. In a way, it works by simply offering a different reason for the possession. However, it still fails to deliver anything that hasn’t already been seen before (except for a scene in a hospital MRI room, which was admittedly pretty awesome).
Although it’s firmly rooted in the teenage-friendly PG-13 realm, “The Possession” is surprisingly tame. There is only one death to speak of, and the punishment the demon doles out isn’t too harsh. At its most terrifying, it can summon a ton of moths or mess with some teeth. This demon is about as worrisome as a bee who just can’t find the window.
So it’s official: 2012 just isn’t the year for possession films. “The Devil Inside” and “The Rite” were no more impressive than “The Possession,” but at least the latter had a compelling performance here or there to keep the drama interesting. What starts out as a touching look at the effects of divorce on a family quickly devolves into tame shlock that undoes all of the dramatic tension built in the first act. If Redbox is empty except for a copy of this, then maybe give it a chance, but it’s not worth the time or the money of anybody interested in the genre.
Speakeasy Rating: D+
Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences