Judging by the volume of "based on a true story" exorcism dramas coming out of Hollywood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be covering up some impressive statistics for demonic possession. Among preteen and teen girls, it's probably more common now than mononucleosis.
"The Possession" doesn't distinguish itself from the competition, memorable only because the exorcist is an Orthodox Jew, and the spirit has a thing for moth infestations. That's one of the pitfalls of making a movie that is similar to 50 others before it. You can't make a routine teen party comedy any more. And you have to find something new to say with your exorcism film.
Our story begins at the world's worst estate sale, where a son sells his mother's things as she still clings to life inside the house. Well-behaved 'tween Em finds a locked box with strange Hebrew inscriptions and opens it like a total idiot. She's quickly possessed, which takes her parents an eternity to figure out. Haven't they seen "The Exorcist"? Or "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" or "The Rite" or "The Last Exorcism" or
Within days she's stabbing her father with a fork, talking to an old woman who lives in her stomach and throwing up moths. So many moths. "The Possession" will probably be forgotten by next Tuesday, but in Hollywood's animal rental industry, the moth wrangler for this film shouldn't have to buy a beer for the rest of 2012.
Director Ole Bornedal and producer Sam Raimi deserve credit for attempting to make an actual film. Bornedal invests so much time in the characters Jeffery Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick play the split parents of the girl there are times you will forget this is a horror movie. It's Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Lucifer.
But the tone is strangely subdued, even in life or death situations. "The Possession" offers a blend of horror styles including a few out-of-place Japanese horror nods a la "The Ring" with little cohesion. And there's a lethargic quality to the performances, as if everyone's moving a little slowly before their first cup of coffee in the morning. When the moths arrive and thing get weird/sinister, there's no sense of urgency or terror.
The movie does improve when Hebrew reggae star Matisyahu shows up as the exorcist, although the spirit removal scenes go by too fast. Looking at the prolonged and stubborn possession of Regan MacNeil in "The Exorcist," the evil spirit in "The Possession" should be embarrassed to call itself a demon.
(If you're looking for a solid 21st Century exorcism film, try Daniel Stamm's "The Last Exorcism." It does the found footage thing, but in a thoughtful and entertaining way.)
Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis
Director: Ole Bornedal
PG-13 (mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences)