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.
The police videotape shot during Diana Ross' Dec. 30 arrest will be released for public record, The Associated Press reports. A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of the tape, which shows Ross being arrested for driving under the influence in front of a video store in Tucson, Arizona. The tape, however, will not include audio. According to AP, the singer's attorney, Leon Silver, and city prosecutor Beverly Ginn agreed to the conditions of the release under the state's open records act that requires public records to be available, excluding private, confidential information. Ginn told AP the tape would be ready after editing by Friday at the earliest.
Seems Sabrina the Teenage Witch has put a spell on rocker Mark Wilkerson of the band Course of Nature. AP reports Melissa Joan Hart, 26, and Wilkerson, 25, got engaged the day after Christmas, but no date for the nuptials has been set. The couple met last year at one of the band's concerts.
More spells cast? Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Alyson Hannigan and Angel evildoer Alexis Denisof (who plays that show's Wesley Wyndham-Pryce) are also tying the proverbial knot. Denisof, 36, popped the question to Hannigan, 28, over the holidays. It's the first marriage for both.
On the opposite side of the marriage coin...Pamela Anderson and ex-husband Tommy Lee have ended their bitter custody battle over their two young sons, Anderson's lawyer, Suzanne Harris, told AP Tuesday. The couple signed an agreement and submitted it to the court. "(The filing) contains everything you could possibly think of about how to raise the children and where they will live," Harris said. Anderson now has the option of relocating the boys to Michigan, home state of her fiancé, Kid Rock.
Writer/producer Paul Monash, known for producing movie hits such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Carrie and writing TV fare such as Peyton Place and The Untouchables, died Tuesday in his Los Angeles home after a brief illness. He was 86.
Variety reports Heidi Fleiss, once known as the "Hollywood Madam," is turning her life story into a feature film for Paramount Pictures and as a potential vehicle for Nicole Kidman. Called Pay the Girl, Fleiss told Variety the story "should be like Pretty Woman, but with the visual energy and excess of Scarface." She added, "All of the madam movies have been like B-level porn or they've been boring. The world I was living in was not boring." Oh, we can't wait for this one.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Looks like the newest reality show being pitched to the major networks is one in which a regular guy is put through intensive training so he can get into the ring with ear-bitin', knockout-punchin' Mike Tyson. According to The Hollywood Reporter, producer Stu Schreiberg is in negotiations with Tyson's representatives. Yikes.
The grass-roots organization Center for Rural Strategies launched a second set of ads against CBS' plans to do a reality show based around the '60s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. CRS president Dee Davis said in a statement, "We believe that Americans should get an honest portrayal of rural life and not just stereotypical characters." Fox News reports CBS appears to be backing away from the show, with no family selected or airdate set.
Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Avril Lavigne and Pink are among the nominees for the UK's version of the Grammys, the Brit Awards. The awards will be handed out Feb. 20.
The wait is over for the millions of Harry Potter fans. Publishers Scholastic of the U.S. and Bloomsbury of Britain announced the fifth Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will finally hit bookstores June 21. The book will be the longest about the boy wizard thus far, with 38 chapters and 255,000 words.