Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) are separated and share custody of their daughters, Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis), a teen and tween respectively. Clyde’s history of short-changing his family in favor of work has hardened Stephanie against the idea that there will be a reconciliation. Clyde, on the other hand, still wishes there was a way back but nonetheless has bought a new home for his girls. In need of dishes and other home goods, he stops at a yard sale and lets his daughters help him pick stuff out. Em spies a wooden box with cool writing on it and decides to take it home with her. We know from the movie’s opening scenes that the box, which has a tendency to whisper at people, is evil. Like, Evil evil. But Em is all, yay, treasure, and takes it home with her to Clyde’s new house, spending her night looking it over and cuddling with it when she goes to bed.
I am not one to believe in ghost stories, but I find the possibility of a demon box more believable than a tween girl who treats a weird wooden box the size of small ice cooler like a teddy bear.
While the box whispers and only opens when it wants to and, when open, reveals a cache of strangeness including moths and a ring that turns Em’s finger gray, it takes Clyde an exceptionally long time to consider that her sudden moodiness and eventual violence might have something to do with her creepy yard sale find. Sure, children can get upset when their parents divorce, but they don’t usually start to look like the female lead in a Japanese horror movie.
A professor — one who is delightfully non-believing in this business — tells Clyde that what he has himself there is a dybbuk box and that he will have to cram the evil spirit back into it in order to make the increasingly bizarre-acting Em normal again. Clyde contacts a rabbi who knows about such things and eventually gets help from Tzadok, who answers the question, “What has Matisyahu been up to lately?”
This, he has been up to this, playing Tzadok, who attempts a sort of exorcism. So, good for him, getting work.
Question for you: If you thought an evil box might be possessing your daughter and you went into her room to look at it, wouldn’t you turn on the light? And, if you heard a funny noise in your kitchen and you went to examine it, wouldn’t you turn on the light then too? “Turn on the light” was what I was thinking through at least 40 percent of this movie. I realize that things are spookier in the dark and that darkness and shadow can help make your low-budget special effects look a little more convincing. But darkness — right there! the switch on the wall! just flick it! — is particularly contrived in this case. And the normal “a spooky thing is happening but we are going to attribute it to this other thing for the first 50 minutes of the 92-minute movie” seems even more absurd than normal. Really? You think your daughter summoning a room full of moths is just acting out about her parents’ divorce?
I can’t write off The Possession entirely, though. There is a kind of loopiness to it — in particular to the flakiness of Sedgwick’s character and the exaggerated craziness of Calis’ Em — that makes it kind of funny at times. I’m not sure that “funny” was where the filmmakers were going, but Morgan’s reactions to Clyde’s daughter’s increasingly strange behavior would suggest that, at least in the beginning, it might have been part of the movie’s design.
The Possession is just a notch above the kind of mediocre horror movie you come to expect in late summer but with a few nice moments of (possibly unintentional) goofiness that actually makes it moderately entertaining. C
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences. Directed by Ole Bornedal and written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, The Possession is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed by Lionsgate.