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 Bushes gathered together Hollywood celebrities and musicians Monday at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for a musical tribute honoring the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. At the second Concert for America (the first took place 13 days after the attacks), opera tenor Placido Domingo joined Latin pop star Enrique Iglesias and country singer Alan Jackson in a musical performance, while actors Angela Bassett and James Earl Jones gave dramatic readings. The show will air on NBC Wednesday.
Let's hope this the last time we have to write about this, now that it's official: The Russian Space Agency sent a letter to NASA Monday stating 'N Sync member Lance Bass will not be visiting their international space station anytime soon. Last week, the agency kicked Bass off the flight crew for his failure to raise the $20 million fee in time, but Bass' sponsors hoped to continue the negotiations. Not anymore. "The letter speaks for itself," NASA spokeswoman Debra Rahn told the Associated Press. "They've officially withdrawn Mr. Bass from the flight."
After establishing a nonprofit summer camp to help girls develop self-esteem in California, supermodel Tyra Banks plans on opening one in South Florida. Called T-Zone, the weeklong, all-expenses-paid camp for girls ages 13 to 15 helps the teenagers deal with body image, self-doubt and pressures from boys. Banks wants to open camps all over the country. "I want to take it national as soon as possible," Banks told Sun-Sentinel. "But I want quality control. I want it to be like McDonald's or Coca-Cola. It's the same everywhere."
Actor Brad Renfro has dropped out of the film Freddy vs. Jason, the ultimate horror showdown between to two infamous killers--Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger and Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees. Renfro will be replaced by Jason Ritter (Swimfan), son of actor John Ritter.
Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein) will direct Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. The sequel to the 2001 summer sleeper hit Legally Blonde continues the adventures of Harvard Law School grad Elle Woods as she heads to Washington to take on the politicians.
Get ready for more Mr. French and Mrs. Beasley. The WB has remade the sappy '60s show Family Affair, where cute twins Jody and Buffy Davis, along with their teenage sister Sissy, descend upon their Uncle Bill (Gary Cole), a devout bachelor and his stuffy butler, Mr. French (Tim Curry). The one-hour series pilot airs Thursday at 8 p.m. What's next? The Courtship of Eddie's Father?
A tour bus for Eminem's Anger Management Tour caught fire Sunday on a highway in Michigan, when friction from a flat tire ignited the vehicle. AP reports only the bus driver was on board the bus, which was reserved for Eminem's managers, when the fire started and was not injured. Eminem finished his tour Sunday night at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, known for his '70s hits such as "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Sundown," was recovering in the intensive care unit Monday in Toronto after suffering from internal bleeding in his abdomen. He is stable but doctors told Reuters his condition is serious and will have to be closely monitored over the next few days.