There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Little Timmy Jensen is your typical 10-year-old kid who's afraid of the big bad Boogeyman lurking in his closet. But one night when Timmy's dad comes in his room to do the usual "Nope nothing's there" routine he opens the closet-and right before Timmy's eyes is immediately sucked in by some unknown malevolent force. That's got to screw with a kid's head. Now 15 years later Tim (Barry Watson) is indeed messed up inherently apprehensive of closets and the dust bunnies under the bed but trying to move on with his life. That is until his mother unexpectedly dies sending Tim back to the point of origin: his dilapidated childhood home in the sticks. He decides he'll spend one night in the house to get over his fears once and for all and accept the fact his dad just "left." Ah if it were only that easy.
When the entire film rests on the shoulders of the guy who played the oldest son on the WB's 7th Heaven you know you're not in for anything meaningful in the way of acting. But that's fine. Horror films of this nature aren't about good acting. They are about dumb folks walking into even dumber situations. Watson fulfills his duties as said hero nicely by a) looking fearfully at and inside a lot of closets and under a lot of beds and b) walking cautiously around empty houses. The rest of the unknown cast also do their best as the Boogeyman's victims and potential victims. They include Tory Mussett (The Matrix Reloaded) as Tim's cutesy girlfriend Emily Deschanel (The Alamo) as Tim's long-lost childhood sweetheart and Skye McCole Bartusiak (The Patriot) as a mysterious little girl who guides Tim in the right direction to defeating the Boogeyman. Clever girl.
OK it's sort of understandable how Boogeyman got made. The film's premise has a built-in scare factor that's tapped into our childhood fears of the darkened closet. Yet once you get past this initial idea there just has to be more substance than Boogeyman provides. Director Stephen T. Kay (Get Carter) goes through all the right motions setting up the camera to make it look as if the Boogeyman is lurking everywhere you turn. But it's a very very long buildup to the climax. After about the 1 000th close-up shot of a closet door you're ready to jump onscreen and churn up some good scares yourself. By the time the anticlimactic showdown actually happens you already have your foot out the door just thankful it's coming to an end.
After FBI agents Kevin (Shawn Wayans) and Marcus (Marlon Wayans) Copeland botch an undercover sting operation at a local NYC grocer they get relegated to acting as chauffeurs on their next assignment. The mission? To pick up heiresses Tiffany and Brittany Wilson from the airport and drive them to the Hamptons where the bureau will tail the socialites who are believed to be targets in a kidnapping plot. But it seems these two bungling agents can't even get this simple task right and they end up flipping the SUV over. Tiffany and Brittany refuse to go to the Hamptons with their faces scraped up and decide to recover in Manhattan. To avoid getting chewed out by the bureau chief yet again Marcus and Kevin decide to impersonate the heiresses and foil the kidnapping plot themselves. They call an in FBI buddy who happens to be a makeup genius and voila: the White Chicks are born. And with everyone getting collagen lip-enhancements the Copeland brothers are easily able to pass themselves off as the Wilson sisters. Don't worry too much about the plot; you'll be so fascinated by the Wayans in whiteface that you'll forget all about it.
Hilarious and rarely stepping out of character Shawn Wayan makes it easy to believe he's a white socialite clarifying his masculine mishaps such as chasing down a mugger with quips like "It's not just a bag it's Prada." And although both the Wayans make impressive white chicks Shawn definitely has the advantage in the physical department. As Brittany in the beach scene Shawn looks stunning in a mint-green sarong and a matching Pucci-inspired bathing suit and doesn't like any more manly than say Madonna. It's not surprising considering both actors dropped about 30 pounds each for the parts. Marlon Wayans meanwhile plays the role of Tiffany they more demure of the two sisters. Although the Wayans do resort to some hackneyed gender bending gags including a predictable date with an oversexed clueless male and the perils of a big chest the characters remain endearing because of the clichéd yarn they avoid. Although there is an all-girl sleepover party for example Brittany and Tiffany interact with their female friends in a very sweet manner rather than plot to get them out of their nighties and into the sack.
With too many writers to rattle off it's no wonder White Chicks' plot is so spotty. Getting top writing credits is director Keenen Ivory Wayans who manages to deliver a pretty hilarious comedy despite its really stupid storyline. One of the main reasons this film works is seeing the Wayans brothers in their special effects makeup which was done by Keith Vanderlaan and Greg Cannom. But unlike Cannom's work on Mrs. Doubtfire the Wayans feminine alter egos look womanly rather than drag queeny with their angular features molded into surprisingly soft ones. Don't be surprised if you find yourself overly preoccupied by the Wayans' appearance constantly looking for telltale signs of where the masks end or where the makeup doesn't blend right. There are also a few really funny scenes to distract you from the Wayans' faces including a club dance-off to Run D.M.C.'s "It's Tricky" and a mother-dissing match ("Oh my God you wanna talk about mothers?" Shawn exclaims.) But once the plot is resolved and the stars are back in their own skin moviegoers will snap back into the moment and realize "Oh right--there was a story behind all of this."
Is anything more frightening than realizing that a desperate and hackneyed sequel to a desperate and hackneyed parody required the work of seven writers? Yes seven writers including brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans. Perhaps one group of writers divided their time poking fun at the latest pop culture phenomenons while the other group concocted new and disgusting ways to drench their cast in vomit urine excretion and semen. The result: a tired tasteless and uninspired send-up of The Exorcist and The Haunting complete with jibes at Nike's new Stomp-inspired basketball commercials and the Florida presidential election fiasco. Our heroes-plus some fresh meat--spend the night in the haunted Hell House as part of an experiment conducted by mad professor Tim Curry. Naturally they find themselves tormented by the ghost of the house. Cue sexual humiliations mutilations and giant wedgies.
So the sequel ignores the fact that some of its cast members perished or were implicated in the first film's murders. Were you expecting a semblance of logic to permeate the proceedings? Anna Faris as the virginal Cindy; Marlon Wayans as pothead Shorty; Shawn Wayans as the closeted gay Ray; and Regina Hall as the pushy Brenda return. They are joined by Tori Spelling wasted as a coed obsessed with her ghostly host; Curry hammy as the professor willing to sacrifice his students; David Cross hysterical as Curry's wheelchair-bound assistant whose self-reliance causes more problems than necessary; and Chris Elliott a hoot as the mansion's caretaker whose withered left hand generates more laughs than almost all the script's woeful cracks at satirizing its intended targets. All prove game especially Faris who finds herself up to her neck in all kinds of nasty goo in the name of comedy.
If only director Keenen Ivory Wayans made an effort to be funny rather than just shocking. He seems intent on making the sequel so much more outrageous than his first film that he forgets to make us laugh for the right reasons. The chuckles mask the slight disgust at seeing Faris dripping in semen or Shawn Wayans sodomizing a demonic clown (but the sight of Cross fellating himself is an amusing way to emphasize his character's doggedness). Wayans' attempts at parodying What Lies Beneath and Hannibal flounder but he does a fine job sending up John Woo's dove-filled climax to Mission: Impossible 2. There's nothing more lazy than tearing into The Exorcist--it's 28 years old!--and it's sad to see James Woods demean himself as a priest with a taste for little girls. Woods stepped in for Marlon Brando whose poor health cost him a reported $2 million but saved him his dignity.