Why should Catholicism be the only faith to experience possession, as evidenced in “The Exorcist” and “The Omen”? Reaching for equal opportunity horror, Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal (“Nightwatch,” “Just Another Love Story”) digs deep into the “Based on True Events” trunk to unearth a dibbuk. In Jewish folklore, a dibbuk is a malicious spirit that can capture the soul of an innocent person and, ultimately, devour it.
At a yard sale in upstate New York, 10 year-old Emily Brenek (Natasha Calis, who actually bears a slight resemblance to a young Linda Blair) finds an old, wooden box with Hebrew letters carved into it and she begs her father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan,) to buy it. He’s a basketball coach and recently divorced from her mom, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), a jewelry designer. Like many an indulgent, ‘weekend’ father, he complies with her wishes. Pretty soon, she’s growling, gobbling food with a voracious appetite and spitting out giant moths. His ex-wife blames her ominous, anti-social behavior on Clyde, as does his sassy, often-hysterical elder daughter, Hannah (Madison Davenport). But Clyde’s colleague, Professor McMannis (Jay Brazeau), and a hip Judaic exorcist, Rabbi Tzakok (Hasidic rap/reggae fusion artist Matisyahu), believe that the box contained a dibbuk which has now gained demonic possession of Emily. After an MRI confirms it – a Jewish exorcism is scheduled.
Loosely based on a 2004 article in the Los Angeles Times by journalist Leslie Gornstein about the eBay auction of a “dybbuk box,” it’s superficially scripted by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (“Knowing”), formulaically directed by Bornedal and ‘presented’ (whatever that means) by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Special credit is given to the “moth wrangler” Brad MacDonald, who managed 2,000 live insects during one particularly spooky sequence. And Rabbi Shmuel Birnham is credited as the expert “Judaic Consultant.”
For genial Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen,” TV’s “Gray’s Anatomy”) and Emmy-winner Kyra Sedgwick (TV’s “The Closer”,) it was obviously a quick-and-easy paycheck.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Possession” is an underwhelming, supernatural 3 – somewhat creepy but easily forgettable.