A family going through a painful divorce is also subjected to the ravages of a dybbuk, a possessing spirit from Jewish folklore. Until this point probably all dramatic stories of dybbuks have been based on a single famous play by Shalom Ansky. This film uses the concept of a dybbuk, but seems to have it behave in ways that are horror-film violent but most un-dybbuk-like. The Possession is a film that may do well with fans of explicit horror and clichéd plots, but not well with people interested in folklore.
Danish director Ole Borndel delivers just what is expected for a visual horror film, but besides the reference to dybbuks, there is nothing at all new or fresh. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
THE EXORCIST (1973) was one of the most financially successful horror films of all time. After it was released there were a host of films about demon possession and about exorcisms to trade off the fame and popularity, almost all had possessing spirits able to suspend the laws of physics and biology to perform nasty tricks. A large percentage claimed to be true.
These films almost always copied THE EXORCIST by couching the story in Catholic theology. THE DYBBUK (1937) far preceded THE EXORCIST basing its story on the Yiddish Play “The Dybbuk” written by Shalom Ansky in 1914 who in turn based the story on Jewish folklore going back to the 1500s. A dybbuk is a possessing spirit that left its own body to possess that of another. While I cannot claim to know a lot about dybbuks the possession is a spiritual one. If one could not trace the unfamiliar spirit to someone else, a possession could be mistaken for a case of multiple personality. And multiple personality could well be the origin of the dybbuk stories. There are no physical manifestations. There are no physically unexplainable contortions or poltergeist-like attacks. In the Ansky play the dybbuk is even bringing some justice to an unjust trick of fate. It is considered bad enough just possessing someone else’s body without throwing people around rooms.
The Possession, which tediously claims to be based on a true story, is a novelty in that it uses the concept of a dybbuk as few films do. In fact, it may be the first film to have a dybbuk that is not based on the play. However, the script of the film may claim to have a dybbuk, but it behaves more like a demon from a post- EXORCIST exorcism horror film. It can throw people dozens of feet; it seems to have some sort of intimate relationship with some breed of large flying insect; it shows up as a small fully formed human in X-rays. All of this would be fine in a film about Exorcist-like demon possession, but it seems very out of place in a story about a dybbuk, or for that matter a story that claims to be true.
Clyde and Stephanie (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) are going through a divorce very upsetting for their two daughters Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport). On a day of custody with her father Em goes with Clyde to a yard sale where Em is fascinated by a carved wooden box with odd writing. (Some viewers will recognize the letters as being just Hebrew upside- down.) She buys the box and places it in her bedroom. Soon Em starts having some distinct personality changes. It is almost as if she is possessed by some strange spirit!!!
Director Ole Bornedal claims to have liked what he saw as the subtlety of THE EXORCIST, and that clearly was the kind of film he was trying to make. He should have seen the 1937 film THE DYBBUK. Or perhaps he would have been better off never having seen any story of a dybbuk possession. Then he might have given us something new and fresh. This is an old plot being with its roots in bad horror films rather than folklore. I rate The Possession a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper