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 actor, who was Oscar nominated for his role in the 1978 Vietnam War movie, was a last-minute addition to the film - and feels he was only asked to take part because he was a neighbour of Schlesinger's replacement Hal Ashby.
Dern tells WENN Pacino and Schlesinger walked away from the film after two days of shooting, leaving producer Jerome Hellman desperate to replace them in less than a week - or risk studio bosses scrapping the project.
Dern recalls, "Jerry Hellman lived in Malibu Colony; I lived in Malibu Colony and Hal Ashby lived in Malibu Colony. Jerry went to Hal, gave him the script for Coming Home and said, 'Can you shoot Thursday?' He said, 'It's Tuesday night!' He said, 'What's the rush if I started Monday?' Hellman said, 'The rush is two other movies about Vietnam started last week - Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter - but I don't have explosions or war in my script.
"He said, 'I got the word 'home', and United Artists will shut my movie down if we don't continue on.' So, in 36 hours, Hal went to work.
"Jon Voight, who was playing my role, went up and played Pacino's role, Luke Martin. I lived on the same street as Hal, so he said, 'What about the Dernster for Captain Bob?' So in I come. (Co-star) Jane Fonda went along with it because she was kind of the silent producer of the piece and we marched right on through."
The film was destined to be a great success - Fonda and Voight won Best Actress and Actor Oscars, and Nancy Dowd, Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones shared the Best Screenplay prize.
Dern adds, "That was another twist - the three writers had never met each other. They all three wrote individual scripts. Nancy Dowd was hired by Jane Fonda, who gave her $25,000 to write a triangular love story set in Vietnam. Waldo Salt, who had written Midnight Cowboy with Jerry Hellman, wrote the screenplay and had a stroke and was in an oxygen tank and couldn't write anymore, so Bob Jones, who was the editor on Coming Home and had been in Vietnam, took over and became the scriptwriter.
"The day after the Oscars Jerry Hellman called Jane Fonda and says, 'Who's Nancy Dowd - because we just got a call from the Writers Guild saying she gets equal credit and equal money for the script because she won the Oscar. What do we do about her because she wants a piece of the movie?' Jane said, 'Oh God, I forgot to tell you - she wrote the script!'"
It looks like Harvey will remain invisible, at least as far as Steven Spielberg is concerned.
The director has withdrawn from the remake of the film about a man and his six-foot tall invisible rabbit.
Variety reports that Speilberg gave Fox the news this week. The studio had agreed to have DreamWorks finance 50% of production through its new funding relationship with Reliance, and either distribute domestically or internationally through its arrangement with Disney.
The film has faced challenges since Spielberg committed last August including finding a star to play Elwood P. Dowd, the character immortalized by James Stewart in the 1950 original film.
Tom Hanks did not want to step into Stewart's iconic shoes while Robert Downey Jr. and Spielberg never found themselves in creative sync on the script.
Fox 2000 will continue working on Harvey and could re-approach Spielberg and Downey, Variety says.
It wasn't immediately clear which picture Spielberg will direct instead, but possibilities include the Abraham Lincoln Civil War film scripted by Tony Kushner, and the Jeff Nathanson-written The 39 Clues.
All Jackie Chan movies are basically the same right? Jackie is the good
guy who's on the run from or in pursuit of a truly evil bad guy. In
this one Jackie plays an Imperial Chinese guard sent to the American
west during the 1800s to rescue a kidnapped princess (Lucy Liu). He
buddies up with a bumbling outlaw (Owen Wilson) and as you might guess
action and laughs follow.
One reason for Chan's phenomenal success of recent years is that he
seems to realize his own strengths and weaknesses as an actor and plays
up to them. As he did with Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour " Chan plays the
straight guy while Wilson (doing a more slapstick type of comedy than in
"Bottle Rocket" and other films) acts the goof.
Well there's some nice scenery of the Sierra Nevadas and the old west
(where this stuff was actually filmed I have no idea but it looks
great) but other than that this film is a showcase for the actors. For
the most part director Tom Dey doesn't deviate from the tried-and-true
elements of a Hollywood western: Gunfights Indians brothels bounty
hunters barroom brawls hangings damsels in distress and so on. The
final fight between the good guys and bad guys is a lot of fun mixing
up swordplay gunplay martial arts and fighting sticks.