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 film and television nominations for the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards have been released, recognizing achievements in both individual performances and the strengths of ensemble casts. This year's television award nominations are listed below, including many worthy recipients, but there are also a few surprising absences. Among the hard-hitters listed below are dramas like HBO's Mildred Pierce and Boardwalk Empire, AMC's Breaking Bad and comedies such as ABC's Modern Family (which swept the Emmys this year) and NBC's 30 Rock. However, some might be surprised not to find the new Showtime drama Homeland or NBC's secret weapon Parks and Recreation.
The 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Jan. 29, 2012 on TNT and TBS.
Click here to read the list of this year's film nominees.
18th ANNUAL SAG AWARDS NOMINATIONS: PRIMETIME TELEVISION
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laurence Fishburne - Thurgood (HBO)
Paul Giamatti - Too Big to Fail (HBO)
Greg Kinnear - The Kennedy (Reelz Channel)
Guy Pearce - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
James Woods - Too Big to Fail (HBO
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Diane Lane - Cinema Verite (HBO)
Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey (PBS)
Emily Watson - Appropriate Adult (Sundance Channel)
Betty White - Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Lost Valentine (CBS)
Kate Winslet - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Patrick J. Adams - Suits (USA)
Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV)
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - Dexter (Showtime)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates - Harry's Law (NBC)
Glenn Close - Damages (DirecTV)
Jessica Lange - American Horror Story (FX)
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife (CBS)
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer (TNT)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Ty Burrell - Modern Family (ABC)
Steve Carell - The Office (NBC)
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family (ABC)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julia Bowen - Modern Family (ABC)
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Tina Fey - 30 Rock (NBC)
Sofia Vergara - Modern Family (ABC)
Betty White - Hot in Cleveland (TV Land)
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) - Steve Buscemi, Dominic Chianese, Robert Clohessy, Dabney Coleman, Charlie Cox, Jose & Lucy Gallina, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, Anthony Laciura, Heather Lind, Kelly Macdonald, Rory & Declan McTigue, Gretchen Mol, Brady & Connor Noon, Kevin O'Rourke, Aleksa Palladino, Jacqueline Pennewill, Vincent Piazza, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Van Wagner, Shea Whigham, Michael Kenneth Williams, Anatol Yusef
Breaking Bad (AMC) - Jonathan Banks, Betsy Brandt, Ray Campbell, Bryan Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Bob Odenkirk, Aaron Paul
Dexter (Showtime) - Billy Brown, Jennifer Carpenter, Josh Cooke, Aimee Garcia, Michael C. Hall, Colin Hanks, Desmond Harrington, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Rya Kihlstedt, C.S. Lee, Edward James Olmos, James Remar, Lauren Velez, Peter Weller, David Zayas
Game of Thrones (HBO) - Amrita Acharia, Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Josef Altin, Sean Bean, Susan Brown, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Ron Donachie, Michelle Farley, Jerome Flynn, Elyes Gabel, Aiden Gillen, Jack Gleeson Iain Glen, Julian Glover, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Conleth Hill, Richard Madden, Jason Mamoa, Rory McCann, Ian McElhinney, Luke McEwan, Roxanne McKee, Dar Salim, Mark Stanley, Donald Sumpter, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams
The Good Wife (CBS) - Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Matt Czuchry, Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Archie Panjabi, Graham Phillips, Makenzie Vega
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC) - Scott Adsit, Alec Baldwin, Katrina Bowden, Kevin Brown, Grizz Chapman, Tina Fey, Judah Friedlander, Jane Krakowski, John Lutz, Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan, Maulik Pancholy, Keith Powell
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) - Mayim Bialik, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Jim Parsons, Melissa Rauch
Glee (Fox) - Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Ashley Fink, Dot Marie Jones, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Mike O'Malley, Chord Overstreet, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Harry Shum Jr., Iqbal Theba, Jenna Ushkowitz
Modern Family (ABC) - Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, Julia Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nolan Gould, Sarah Hyland, Ed O'Neill, Rico Rodriguez, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara, Ariel Winter
The Office (NBC) - Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton, Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Kate Flannery, Ed Helms, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinsey, John Krasinski, Paul Lieberstein, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Craig Robinson, James Spader, Phyllis Smith, Rainn Wilson, Zach Woods
Look at those X-Men go!
X2: X-Men United came barreling out on top for the second week in a row, taking in a hefty $41.4 million*, nearly double the $27.6 million opener Daddy Day Care took in at No. 2.
After the top two, however, the box office dropped off considerably. In third place, The Lizzie McGuire Movie only raked in $7.8 million, while fourth place holder Identity managed a measly $6.3 million. Rounding out the top five, Anger Management collected $5.5 million.
Still, the true Cinderella story of the Top 10 this week was the quirky A Mighty Wind. After the film's run was expanded to more than 600 theaters, it made the list for the first time since its release, coming in at No. 7 with $2.8 million.
Interestingly, the romantic comedy Down With Love, which opens wide against The Matrix Reloaded next week, popped up in one theater in New York and gathered an impressive $44,098, while the Neil Labute dark comedy The Shape of Things debuted in 40 theaters with $177,506.
THE TOP TEN
At the top of the heap, 20th Century Fox's PG-13 X2 swept up with an ESTIMATED $41.4 million at 3,748 theaters ($11,046 per theater). Although it dipped 52 percent from its huge $85 million opening last weekend, the sequel--in which Prof. Xavier and his X-Men must join the metal-controlling villain Magneto to battle against a society that fears and distrusts them--has reached approximately $149 million in two weeks, making it the fifth film this year to cross the $100 million mark.
Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen and more.
Sony Pictures' PG-rated Eddie Murphy laffer Daddy Day Care debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $27.6 million at 3,370 theaters ($8,190 per theater), making it the third largest opener for Murphy following Nutty Professor II: The Klumps ($42.5 million) and Dr. Dolittle ($29 million).
The film focuses on a father who loses his job and decides to start up a day care center with one of his fellow laid-off colleagues to make ends meet.
Directed by Steve Carr, it also stars Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Regina King and Anjelica Huston.
Buena Vista's PG-rated The Lizzie McGuire Movie slipped a spot to third with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million (-55%) at 2,825 theaters ($2,761 per theater). Based on the hit Disney Channel series, the film is about 13-year-old Lizzie's whirlwind trip to Rome where she is mistaken for a celebrity pop star and gets the royal treatment. Its cume is approximately $27.2 million in two weeks.
Directed by Jim Fall, it stars Hilary Duff, Adam Lamberg and Yani Gellman.
Coming in at No. 4 was Sony's R-rated Identity with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-33%). Playing at 2,618 theaters (-115 theaters; $2,406 per theater), this Hitchcockian thriller has collected approximately $39.2 million thus far.
Directed by James Mangold, it stars John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Rebecca DeMornay and Alfred Molina.
Still holding strong in the Top Five, Sony's PG-13 Anger Management dropped a notch to fifth place with an ESTIMATED $5.5 million (-35%) at 2,819 theaters (-652 theaters; $1,951 per theater). Its cume is approximately $122.9 million.
Directed by Peter Segal, it stars Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei and John Turturro.
Buena Vista's PG-rated Holes captured the sixth spot with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-33%) at 2,452 theaters (+50 theaters; $1,876 per theater). In its fourth week, the film's cume is approximately $51.4 million.
Directed by Andrew Davis, it stars Rick Fox, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson and Shia LeBeouf.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Making its way into the box office's Top 10 list for the first time since its release was Warner Bros. PG-13 A Mighty Wind, coming in at No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million (+178%). Warners expanded the film's release to 765 theaters (+608 theaters; $3,752 per theater) and now in its fourth week, Wind's cume is approximately $9.3 million.
The film follows three sets of famous '60s folk singing groups who come together for a benefit concert 40 years later.
Directed by and starring Christopher Guest, it also stars Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Bob Balaban, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and more.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated comedy Malibu's Most Wanted dropped from sixth to eighth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.1 million (-47%) at 2,008 theaters (-332 theaters, $1,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.7 million.
Directed by John P. Whitesell, it stars Jamie Kennedy, Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson.
In what could turn out to be another My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated Bend It Like Beckham moved up a spot to No. 9 with an ESTIMATED $1.6 million (+12%) at 563 theaters (+80) with a per theater average of $$2,931. Its cume is approximately $13 million.
The film follows the aspirations of a young Indian girl living in London whose only desire is to play soccer--even if it means going against her traditional family's wishes.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha, it stars Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Lions Gate's R-rated Confidence fell three rungs to 10th place with an ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-41%) at 1,188 theaters (-683 theaters; $1,263 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11 million.
Directed by James Foley, it stars Edward J. Burns, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia and Rachel Weisz.
Fox's PG-13 romantic comedy Down With Love debuted in one New York theater with an impressive $44,098. An homage to those wacky Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies, the film follows a feminist writer who knocks heads with a playboy journalist. The film opens wide next week.
Directed by Peyton Reed, it stars Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor and David Hyde Pierce.
Also debuting this week was Focus Features' R-rated The Shape of Things, which gathered an ESTIMATED $177,506 in 40 theaters ($4,438 per theater).
A contemporary love story set in a college town in which sex and art intertwine as the relationships between four college students become increasingly complicated.
Written and directed by Neil Labute, it stars Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $103 million, down considerably, nearly 28 percent from last week when they totaled $141.4 million.
The Top 12 were also down 10.6 percent from last year when they totaled $115 million.
Last year, Sony's PG-13 rated Spider-Man stayed at the top of the box office for the second week with $71.4 million at 3,615 theaters ($19,756 per theater); Fox's steamy R-rated Unfaithful came in second with $14 million at 2,613 theaters ($5,383 per theater); and Sony's PG-13 comedy The New Guy came in third with $9 million at 2,687 theaters ($3,352 per theater).