The Possession: From the writing team and producer who brought you Boogeyman! No, not that Boogeyman, the other one. Yeah, okay, there’ve been a few, so we can understand your confusion. The 2005 Boogeyman! You know, the one with the kid from Seventh Heaven and Zooey Deschanel’s less annoyingly quirky sister? Yeah, that’s the one! Same folks!
And so ends my brief career of writing movie poster copy. But the point is, as you can see, The Possession, the new horror release from the producing shingle of the extremely busy and formerly cool Sam Raimi, comes with quite the pedigree. After Boogeyman (on which they share writing credit with Eric Kripke), screenwriting team Stiles White and Juliet Snowden would go on to pen such immortal classics as Knowing (2005) and The Proud Family Movie (2009). With The Possession, though, they return to their domestic horror roots, so what better way* to celebrate the closing of this vicious circle than with a good old-fashioned Smackdown?
When we meet college basketball coach Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), he’s already a bit down over his recent divorce from Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and the fact that she’s dating a dude (Grant Show) who we immediately know must be a horrible girly-man because he can cook and drives a Prius.
Things go from bad to worse when Em (Natasha Calis), the younger of his two pre-teen daughters, buys a mysterious old wooden box engraved with upside down Hebrew letters at a garage sale and quickly becomes obsessed with it. Then she begins acting increasingly violent, feral and just all-around crabby, and it gradually (oh, so gradually) becomes clear that she isn’t merely becoming one of the Mean Girls, but is in fact possessed by the evil spirit of the box, known as a dybbuk. (Dybbuk, Schmybbuk! Guffman fans? Anyone?)
It’s up to Hasidic exorcist Tzadok (actual Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu) to cast the demon out, which he does by singing him some of that Hasidic reggae. (Okay, no, it’s not quite that silly.) (Dammit.)
Young Timmy is lying in bed, terrified of the “Boogeyman” in his closet. His dad comes in to assure him there’s no such thing as a Boogeyman — only to get dragged into the closet by the Boogeyman and never be seen again.
Tim grows up to be very appreciative of irony. No, okay, he grows up to be a likable, fairly well adjusted dude (Barry Foster), all things considered, enough to get himself a hot blonde girlfriend (Tory Mussett) with a cartoonishly large mouth. But when his mom dies, he has to return to the old house and all its memories, and before too long, spooky stuff starts happening, culminating in Big Mouth getting sucked down a hotel bathtub drain. I think.
Anyway, Tim’s inevitable confrontation with his old pal Boogeyman unites him with a haunted teen girl (Skye McCole Bartusiak) who knows from Boogeymen herself, and reunites him with an old flame (Emily Deschanel) with a normal-sized mouth.
The audience I saw The Possession with was truly, thoroughly entertained. By each other. I’ve been to New Year’s parties where I didn’t hear that much chattering and giggling. But when the movie’s so little fun, what else can you do but make your own? Basically, imagine The Exorcist with Jews instead of Catholics. And divorced parents instead of just a divorced mom. And an additional sister who serves no purpose. And idiotic characters and stiff dialogue and a stupid ending and no scares. So basically, imagine Exorcist if it had been as bad as Exorcist II.
Whereas, I’m not really sure what to compare Boogeyman to, but it was quite possibly the longest four hours of my… Wait, what? I’m sorry, I’m being told it was only 85 minutes. Well, it feels a wee bit longer because it largely consists of ultra-bland Foster glancing around an old house with a slack-jawed expression, interrupted occasionally by an extremely loud soundtrack cue. Seriously, I’m no audiophile and almost never comment on this, but the mixing on the DVD I rented is ridiculously terrible; if you have the dialogue at a normal level, the soundtrack is ear-splitting, but turn it down, and you can’t hear the dialogue. (This is the course I recommend.)
The directors in both cases are slumming to rather dispiriting degrees: Boogeyman‘s Stephen Kay is a go-to helmer for some of the best recent TV dramas (The Shield, Friday Night Lights and Sons of Anarchy), and he employs a wide variety of inventive camera tricks to attempt to distract from how feeble the script is, but all in vain. Meanwhile, Ole Bornedal has made some intriguing films back in his native Denmark but is probably best known here for Nightwatch (1997) with Nick Nolte and Ewan McGregor, which is to say that he’s not known here at all. If he’s lucky, The Possession will do nothing to change that.
In fact, one watches The Possession feeling that pretty much everyone involved surely had better things to do. Morgan, who can be quite fun in colorful, meaty roles like the Comedian in Watchmen, is wasted here in the bumbling-dad-who’s-too- distracted-by-work-to-remember-his-daughter’s-dance-recital role. (Honestly, when was the last time you saw a scene where a kid reminded a divorced dad of a show he or she was going to be in, and the dad didn’t forget?) Sedgwick, so compelling on The Closer (once you get past her fake Southern accent), again demonstrates horrible taste in hiatus projects (see also Man on a Ledge. Actually, come to think of it, don’t). So it’s hard not to feel annoyed at the film for distracting its two adult leads from doing more interesting material, and distracting its two child leads from doing normal child things with their days like hanging with their friends at the mall.
So in short: Boogeyman is pretty much a non-experience, and The Possession is either a depressing experience or a giggle-inducing experience, depending on your mood and whom you see it with and what you smoke beforehand.
There was a time, beginning around his first two Evil Dead movies and progressing into his mid-career with films like Darkman and A Simple Plan, when the name Sam Raimi on a film generated genuine excitement among film geeks, particularly as a director. But as a producer, he’s basically satisfied with cashing paychecks as the new Roger Corman, cranking out these low-budget schlockfests in hopes of packing enough stoner teens in on opening night that the film comes out ahead and can generate some easy overseas revenue. Do I really want to encourage anyone to see either of these feeble excuses for movies that, combined, ate up three hours I’ll never get back, and seemed like much more? Well, yeah, that’s what we do here at Movie Smackdown. Given that, I’ll pick the arguably less-boring The Possession, especially for those who are die-hard Matisyahu fans or perhaps need 90 minutes of background noise while they eat popcorn. Better idea, though? Watch a real movie like Evil Dead or The Exorcist. Or, I dunno, go out and play! Summer’s not over yet.