The Possession is the Jewish pop reggae version of The Exorcist

Illustration for article titled The Possession is the Jewish pop reggae version of The Exorcist

The Possession (originally titled Dybbuk Box but called "The Jewish Exorcist movie" by most of America) first intrigued the masses by casting reggae rapper Matisyahu as the religious ghost wrangler, upped the ante with this aggressive poster, and kept us interested with the promise of Jewish mysticism (an unfamiliar take on a tired movie genre) topped by Sam Raimi gore (Raimi is a producer). Alas — we've seen girls vomit bugs before, and better. The Possession crumbles under its own inability to make an original decision. Instead it retreads the steps of past exorcist movies (Jeffrey Dean Morgan actually screams "Take me" to the demon). What could have been an interesting journey into a new culture was sadly just Jewish Exorcist lite.


Spoilers ahead.

Lead by Danish director Ole Bornedal, The Possession stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as every dad you've ever seen going through a divorce on TV or in a movie. The bumbling idiot father with a heart of gold does some eye rollingly generic shit. For example, he feeds the kids pizza (when ex-wife Kyra Sedgwick strictly forbid it), buys leather furniture, forgets simple parental responsibilities like showing up at your kid's dance recital (no, really, he forgets his kid's dance recital), sasses his wife's new pencil neck boyfriend... the list goes on. Thank goodness JDM is a sexual smoke monster and dials up the Denny hard with a few sweet moments with his two adorable little girls.

The "possessed" character is the youngest of two daughters played by the haplessly innocent Natasha Calis. This creature is basically the human embodiment of CG cat Puss in Boots making his big eyed "please" face. Calis uncovers the Dybbuk Box at a haunted flea market and immediately begins her descent into becoming a cuter version of Linda Blair, but slowly. So slowly.

The pace is a direct throwback to possession movies past, except The Possession itself is just too light on the actual scares. Not saying we need a Paranormal Activity helping of jump scares, but more scares in general would be nice. This clip right here is a perfect example of the movie's ability to make scary stuff happen with good acting and FX — we just wish there was more of it.

The Omen could be slow because that kid was the actual devil. This is just some bitch in a box who wants to ruin a family's life. The stakes are lower, so we need more terrible things to happen to this human butterfly creature besides finger throat phantoms. Plus this flick leaned too hard on the old Raimi bug-in-the-mouth trick. Moths were everywhere — in the house, on the kids' toothbrushes, in their hair, coming both in and out of Calis' mouth in a cloud of moth vomit. But we've seen this before in Raimi's own flick, Drag Me To Hell, so it was hard to get excited about the bug scares (did I mention there were a lot of those?). Even the father's new home in a suburb of cookie cutter homes smacked of what we've seen in Poltergeist.

As Calis's character takes a dive, JDM smartens up and gathers his own Zelda Rubinstein-esque Jewish exorcist in the form of "King Without A Crown" crooner, Matisyahu. Who lives in Brooklyn's Borough Park OF COURSE! After meeting with a collection of muttering, disapproving elder members of the Hasid community, Jewish rebel with a cause and an iPhone Matisyahu meekly throws down and delicately stammers, "meep!" Aw poor Matisyahu. He's absolutely got charisma and that something spark, but while everyone else on set is running around screaming and crying because a demon is eating their daughter's soul Matisyahu appears to be secretly listening to his reggae rock. He's just so damn chill it's strange — even up to his very last second on screen. It's not his fault; the guy is chill. This was just bad stunt casting. If you're going to bring in a ghost catcher you gotta live up to the greats before you. And sorry Matisyahu you're no Zelda Rubinstein.


Together JDM and Matisyahu hit the road (spinoff!!!) and return to save Calis. Matisyahu explains that there's a demon in that box little Calis opened and now that demon is trying to take their daughter, but if they know it's name then they can yell it back into the box... yeah. It all comes to a very predictable climax.

That said, the sounds, lights, sets and acting were all really lovely. There were a few genuinely creepy scenes where the original owner of the Dybbuk Box gets stroked out when she tries to attack the wooden menace, or when Calis slowly starts slipping the third person in her sentences in reference to herself. We just needed this movie to go further. The big relationship breakdown between father and daughter could have been darker, or more horrifying. And JDM goes for broke with multiple manly tears. We just wish the story had lived up to its promise to bring us something new.


The weird part is that the broken family winds up getting back together as a result of this ordeal, so the evil demon box actually fixes everyone's trouble. Perhaps that was the missed opportunity. Maybe this whole thing should have been rewritten as the tale of a misunderstood box that travels the globe picking broken families and healing them with tornadoes of moths and french fries. "Daddy used to be boinking his secretary, but my magical Hebrew box just killed that home wrecker. Now he's moved back in and terrified to leave the house. We're a family again — thanks Dybbuk Box!"



Other than the tiny handful of actual unique takes on exorcism movies—I can only think of The Last Exorcism and The Prophecy (where it was a subplot)—isn't every exorcism movie just a lame The Exorcist wannabe? Always the same dumb plot: some demon decides the best way to spread evil is to possess some middle-class white girl between the ages of 12 and 25 whose family has no power or influence, and basically confine her to her bedroom doing nothing particularly destructive except wrecking the bedroom furniture. In The Omen movies, Satan's kid tried and succeeded in manipulating the president of the United States! But the average possessing demon in an exorcism movie has all the motivation of an unemployed dope fiend. They can't be bothered to possess so much as a city alderman.

I guess based on this review Matisyahu doesn't do the usual "I'm struggling with my faith" bit, but maybe rabbis aren't as high-strung as Catholic priests.