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‘Possession’ plods along until last 20 minutes

By Gary Clift

It was a musician with a sense of humor who first played me one of Matisyahu’s Yiddish-language reggae records. By then my younger acquaintance knew all about the author, song-writer, and performer with the prayer shawl and the full beard.

Matisyahu saunters to the rescue of “The Possession,” a new horror movie showing in town. He has all of the movie’s jokes and is in some ways the hero of the story. But does he arrive too late?

Directed by a Dane named Ole Bornedall, “The Possession” offers us other relatively sympathetic stars. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a lot of middle-aged range which he has already showcased on TV and in films, including “Watchmen” and “The Losers.” He plays college basketball coach Clyde, the father here.

The mother and ex-wife Stephanie is Kyra Sedgwick, who has been around long enough to have had a part in the original “Miami Vice” TV show. Ma lives with the couple’s two daughters, twelve-year-old Hannah and faddy ten-year-old Emma. Coach, we are told a couple of times, paid too much attention to his job and not enough to his family. Heard that one before?

So Ma has a new beau, a faddy orthodontist. And Coach, once he has identified the source of his family’s supernatural troubles, has a professor to consult. Those are essentially all the characters in the film.

Coach has just bought a new house in a new and isolated development. He and the girls stop at a yard sale, looking to buy a few dishes. While they are there Emma finds a box, carved with Hebrew characters, and pays for it. At first no one can get the box open.

Then they wish they hadn’t gotten it open. Emma begins to act strangely, sometimes attacking (the tooth doctor, a classmate, and eventually her family members) with disproportionate strength. In one brief snap activity suggests Coach has slapped Emma. So Ma gets a court order. Can’t trust men with their own kids.

Coach goes to the Professor, who recognizes the box as a prison for a sort of demon. If the spirit gets out, it would begin to inhabit the body of whatever innocent is available. The only hope is a Jewish exorcism of a sort only practiced by some wild Hassidics. Coach drives to Brooklyn, finds one, and brings him back. The sausage curl wearer is Matisyahu. Here he comes, in the last reel, to the rescue in more ways than one.

Morgan and Sedgwick and the girls are all sympathetic, but their circumstances are cliche (demon box aside). Ma doesn’t want the girls eating pizza. Little girl loves animals and so has become a vegetarian. Pa misses older girl’s stage performance. I mean, we’ve seen all this a billion times. Men are insensitive. Men are skunks. Men are barely civilized. And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby. We hate everyday masculinity.

Even Coach’s new house is a little too familiar. Remember, much of the action in last year’s re-made “Fright Night,” the best horror movie in a while, took place in a new housing development. Besides, the film is too steadily ominous. It needs a lightly comic character.

Then, suddenly, there’s soft-spoken Matisyahu who seems competent and exotic and funny and—here’s the masculine thing—willing. And the whole movie perks up.

So the end of the movie is a sprint, imaginative, with a reversal which does Coach credit and a decent setting for the climax. The question for moviegoers is, does the long jog pace of the movie up to the exorcist’s introduction move fast enough to keep our attention until “The Possession’s” last quick twenty minutes?

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