Unfortunately I didn’t grow up Jewish, so I had never heard of a Dybbuk much less the Dybbuk box. The mythology (or at least Wikipedia) states that a Dybbuk is a malicious, possessing spirit of a dead person. A writer named Kevin Mannis gained national attention in 2001 when he sold a “Dybbuk Box” on eBay. You can go down that rabbit hole yourself with a quick google search. I’m not here to discuss Dybbuks or the real box, but I AM here to remind you of an underrated possession movie based on it: 2012’s The Possession.
The film’s opening scene has excellent special effects as an old woman becomes the first victim of the box’s violence. As she lay recovering at home, fully bandaged from the spirit’s attack, a young girl takes the box away from a yard sale. Strangeness ensues and the little girl, Emily, becomes seriously creepy and obsessed with the box. The scene where Emily becomes actually possessed by the Dybbuk is one of my favorites. The sound of the Dybbuk spirit whispering to her in a dark parking lot is unsettling and the depiction of the moths being swallowed under the lamp post is one of the more literal portrayals of a possession on film.
The effects are great throughout the movie. At one point Emily menacingly looks at her mom’s new boyfriend and reveals that she’s holding a tooth. As the boyfriend (a dentist) inspects the tooth, Emily’s eye roll around in her head and what appears to be an outline of a human hand attempts to climb out of her cheek.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Emily’s dad well, and I appreciate that he finds out about the Dybbuk and immediately attempts an exorcism. No skepticism, just solutions oriented. That’s what we want in a dad! I love that he travels to Borough Park in Brooklyn and meets with MATIYASHU (hahaha) to learn more about the Dybbuk. I’ve seen plenty of Christian based possession movies and I for one am thrilled to have a lens from a different religion. I’m an Atheist, but I really enjoy religious folklore, especially about evil spirits. Let’s get a Jehovah’s Witness horror story or something for god’s sake.
Back to the film. Matiyashu comes back with Jeffrey Dean Morgon to do an exorcism. Meanwhile Emily’s mom, Kyra Sedgewick, is seriously in denial about her baby girl being swallowed up by a Jewish demon. Kyra always bring a convincing performance to any project she’s in. Why don’t we appreciate her more? Why is Kevin Bacon always seemingly having money issues? Where did I put my Tremors box set? Okay. A hallmark of a good possession story is that there’s always this weird, unhuman voice that comes from the demon. The Dybbuk is no exception. It has a raspy, dark voice but DOES speak English.
Whew boy, then we have this scene where Emily takes out Brett, her mom’s new boyfriend. Her demon powers allow her to remove all of Brett’s teeth and causes him to jet out of town. I would, too. I did not sign up for your kid’s drama nor to lose all my damn teeth. But it’s creeeeeeeepy! That scene is in the top 15 creepiest kid scenes for sure. We then learn the demon’s name: ABYZOU: Taker of Children. How convenient that it found Emily at a yard sale.
Then we have the quintessential MRI scene, which gifts us with a FREAKY FACE inside of her. The recommended treatment is – a nap. Until Matiyashu comes in to save the day and do an exorcism. I know it seemed like I was giving him crap earlier but he actually does a pretty decent job as an actor. The actual exorcism scene is really well done. The CGI isn’t TOO distracting (there’s no unnecessary black smoke that follows her or anything stupid like that). And there’s a supremely unnerving scene in the morgue that I remember being affected by when I saw it in a theater. Not as scary the second time around, but still quite eerie. Grainy red lighting is always spooky.
I like this movie. Not sure if it’s just because I’m into the actual concept of a Dybbuk or if it’s actually a solid flick, but I enjoyed rewatching it today. If you’re looking for a good possession double feature weekend, I’d put this one on and follow it up with The Last Exorcism. Shalom!