The Possession offers a steady stream of chuckles and a few big laughs. Unfortunately, it isn’t a comedy, it’s an exorcism-themed horror film that fails to glean suspense out of scenarios that devolved into kitsch after The Exorcist inspired an avalanche of knock-offs that continue to this day. The Possession attempts to breathe new life into a creaky old subgenre by taking its exorcist and demon from Jewish mythology, but even this backfires: The casting of Jewish reggae star Matisyahu would be distracting even if he weren’t introduced singing softly to himself. Matisyahu is probably a better beatboxer than The Exorcist’s Max von Sydow, but he lacks the older actor’s gravitas. (For better or worse, The Possession’s commitment to unintentional comedy stops just short of Matisyahu climactically challenging the central demon to a rap battle for a little girl’s soul.)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as a basketball coach manfully coping with the dissolution of his marriage to Kyra Sedgwick and its effect on his children. Morgan’s already complicated existence grows even more difficult when one of his two young daughters (Natasha Calis) begins exhibiting violent, disturbing behavior after coming into possession of a mysterious wooden box adorned with Hebrew writing. Morgan’s concerns bring him into the orbit of the devout Matisyahu, who goes against the wishes of his rabbi father in an attempt to rid Calis of the demon possessing her soul.
Whatever shock the incongruity of an angelic-looking child behaving in demonic ways might have possessed dissipated long ago from overuse, in both Exorcist imitators and the endless stream of J-horror remakes rolled out over the last decade. The Possession is stingy in its images of Calis possessed by malevolent spirits, but that seems to be less from a Jaws-like sense of economy and surprise than out of an understandable desire to hide its shame and cut its losses, since they tend to register as comic rather than frightening. When The Possession closes with the obligatory tease of a potential sequel, it feels like a host trying to foist leftovers on guests fleeing food they could barely stomach.