For a movie allegedly based on a true story, The Possession feels awfully fictional.
It’s a supernatural thriller based on the legend of the Dybbuk box, which supposedly traces its history back to World War II, and in the decades since has caused all manner of strange phenomena around those who possess it.
The box – a small Jewish wine cabinet haunted by a malevolent spirit, or something like that – apparently was sold on eBay a few years back, along with a detailed history that prompted a newspaper investigation that caused a minor stir within the paranormal community.
At any rate, the story of the box itself seems more frightening, whether you believe it or not, than this assembly-line tale of a young girl whose suburban family is haunted after the Dybbuk inhabits her soul.
As the film opens, the strife within the family is being caused by the recent divorce of Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Stephanie is trying to get their daughters accustomed to her new boyfriend (Grant Show), while Clyde invites the girls to spend time at his large new house. That’s where youngest daughter Emily (Natasha Calis) begins exhibiting strange behavior after finding the Dybbuk box and claiming it as her own.
It gets better from there, for those seeking unintentional humor. Instead of seeking medical attention, the parents start blaming one another, and her problems get worse, leading to Clyde’s involvement of an eccentric Hasidic rabbi (played by Jewish hip-hop star Matisyahu), who explains the legend and the need to perform an exorcism.
Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch), working from a script by the tandem of Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (Knowing), leads the audience through a series of narrative teases (punctuated by repeated cuts to black and ominous piano music), visual gimmicks and red herrings.
The strategy isn’t very suspenseful or frightening, perhaps because the film itself doesn’t have much to offer outside of creepy atmosphere and the obligatory climax, which comes only after an hour-plus of watching a family air its dirty laundry. Divorce is hard on the kids – we get it. But the Dybbuk box is harder.
It’s been almost four decades since the release of The Exorcist, a seminal film in the horror genre that looks even better every time one of these cheap knockoffs comes around.
Rated PG-13, 92 minutes.