‘The Possession’: Out Crawls a Serious Social Problem

The Possession has often been described as a Jewish version of The Exorcist. And with good reason, while The Exorcist portrays the eternal spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil within the context of Christian tradition, The Possession invokes the same binary conflict, but immersed in Jewish folklore. That said, even though The Possession is an engaging film, it’s far from being as terrifying as The Exorcist.

The difference between The Possession and The Exorcist, of course, goes beyond their distinct cultural roots. After all, both films may not pass muster under a detailed analysis of the religious exegesis of their plots. For example, in The Exorcist, the Christian priest is not confronted with an unclean spirit from Christian folklore. Instead, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is pitted against the malevolent Pazuzu, an ancient demon from Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. Furthermore, Christian demonology has its origins in Jewish demonology. Just think about it, Satan is a character that appears in all Abrahamic religions. As such, it’s a moot point to attempt to objectively appreciate these films solely based on their underlying religious ideology.

On the other hand, The Exorcist and The Possession have a distinct cultural ideology that exposes a serious social problem: the breakdown of the family institution. Indeed, both films portray the painful demonic possession of a young girl who is already suffering because of the divorce and separation of her parents. As such, both films appear to suggest that the disintegration of a family ultimately opens the door to unclean spirits that will terrorize the fragile psyche of the children. Therefore, the supernatural horrors and abominations that accompany the demonic possession of the young characters in these films are caused by real social complexities.

In the case of The Possession, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) are a recently divorced couple. And their two young children, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), are struggling to cope with the painful separation of their parents. While under Clyde’s custody, Em finds a weird looking old box at a yard sale. Unknown to them, the “dybbuk box” contains an evil spirit that already caused a devastating stroke to the previous owner. And soon thereafter, Em will become possessed by the terrifying demon that inhabits the dybbuk box.

As this brief synopsis attests, The Possession is an obvious rehash of The Exorcist. However, there are a few intriguing situations here and there that make The Possession worth watching. For example, when Clyde figures out that he inadvertently bought the frightening dybbuk box to her daughter, he goes to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn with the hope of finding help to save his daughter. Quite surprising, Clyde practically needs to beg to the elders of the temple for help, who are content to let things take their own course.

This situation exposes a problematic political ideology, and it may well be the main difference between The Possession and The Exorcist. Indeed, in The Exorcist, the issue of whether to perform the exorcism or not derives from the skepticism showcased by the higher ecclesiastic authorities. On the other hand, in The Possession, the Jewish leaders are certain of the existence of the supernatural entity that threatens the life of Em, but they are hesitant to risk their lives in such a complex undertaking.

If you think about it, this is a truly perplexing situation. Indeed, the leaders have identified the name of the unclean spirit as Abyzou, a female demon of Sumerian origin (but prominent in the Jewish tradition). But regardless of its folklore, it’s known that in ancient times Abyzou was blamed for miscarriages and infant mortality. Why would these noble men accept that such a vile spirit is in possession of an innocent girl? Furthermore, why they do not care that the dybbuk box that contains such a dangerous entity is wandering all over the world? This would be like allowing children to play with weapons of mass destruction.

Fortunately for Clyde and Em, Tzadok (Grant Show), a young member of the Hasidic community, agrees to perform the exorcism rituals. All things considered, from the broken family to the cautious Jewish elders, The Possession suggests that the horrors that haunt younger children are produced by a disproportionate generational gap. Indeed, Abyzou almost seems to conspire with most of the adults in this film.

This film is available on a beautiful-looking Blu-ray disc. This presentation offers two insightful audio commentaries. The first commentary features acclaimed director Ole Bornedal, while the second track hosts the two screenwriters. Also included in this disc is a preposterous and ludicrous documentary on the allegedly “real” dybbuk box that inspired this film. The Possession is widely recommended to horror fans and casual viewers who are looking for a good Saturday night scare.

RATING 7 / 10