Movie Review: The Possession

Oy Vey! Last Friday, The Possession, you know, the movie based on a true story, was unleashed onto the supple minds of the movie going masses. Admittedly, I was excited for its release and I did pay full ticket price, but before I tuck into this one, we should all take a moment to recognize that in the end, The Possession is, point blank, just another movie about a possessed demon child who does the things that possessed demon children do. The sad predictability of the film as it toppled from the horror movie Etz haChayim and hit every cliché on the way down is not my fault and I am not trying to spoil anything for anyone.

The Possession, with Kyra Sedgwick as its leading lady, may be one degree from Kevin Bacon, but just a nugget of truth doesn’t amount to a truly vindicating ghost hunting gold rush. Whether or not you believe in the “true story” on which this film is “based,” that real-life backstory is more titillating than its cinematic dybbuk dramatization.

The movie, for those who are not aware, chronicles how one broken family must reunite and overcome their past grievances to survive the mysterious evil encapsulated within a suspicious antique wooden box found at a yard sale. Little does the family realize, this box was built to contain a dybbuk, a wandering spirit of Yiddish folklore that inhabits and ultimately devours the soul of its human host. Driven by a love for his children and the burning desire to one-up his ex-wife, Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan), drives to Brooklyn to strong-arm Matisyahu (literally) into performing the Hasidic rights of exorcism on his daughter. Sounds juicy, right? Only if you like your juice made of freshly squeezed lies. The story played out in The Possession has very little to do with the real thing.

A dybbuk (“clinging of an evil spirit”) in Jewish mysticism is a human spirit who cannot cross over because they must atone for a sin they did not make right prior to death or a spirit tormented by a grave injustice in life that must be revenged. The spirit literally attaches itself to a person and forces them to physically perform the necessary tasks. This is not exactly what we encounter in this story or the movie. Rather, it’s attached to an inanimate object – in this case, the box – that essentially poisons anyone who comes into contact with the object or the person who owns it. This explanation seems to align itself with the sort of alarmist and farfetched legend that the box actually contained an evil spirit which was brought to America by a Holocaust survivor after WWII.

outside look at the original dybbuk box
Outside look at the original dybbuk box

In the Hasidic belief system, people are not able to be possessed as one thinks of in the traditional Roman Catholic sense. Jews believe that there can be a possession of a living person by a displaced soul that has yet to move on due to unfinished business. The dybbuk is drawn to someone who is in the state where their soul and their body are not fully connected with each other because of severe melancholy, psychosis, stuff like that — where you’re not integrated. It seeks a particular person who in their current lifetime is going through what the possessing spirit went through, and so the spirit is drawn to someone who is struggling with the same thing it did. For example, in my heart I have an overwhelming desire to punch every baby I see, but I don’t follow through because I don’t have the chutzpah. The spirit of someone who has actually done it will be drawn to my desire and will possess me because we’re compatible. However, a possession does not always have to be a negative thing.

The second kind of dybbuk possession is called ‘sod ha’ibbur,’ which is Hebrew for ‘mystery impregnation.’ This kind of possession is a good possession — it’s a spirit guide (i.e. patronus). The spirit of someone who has struggled and overcome what you have struggled with and can’t overcome will be lent to you from the spirit world to possess you, encourage you, and help you overcome what you have not been able to overcome and what it has been able to in its lifetime. Then when it’s done and you’ve managed to achieve what you need to achieve in your life, it leaves you.Anyways, getting back to the real issue, the IRL portion of this ride came to the public’s attention in 2004 with an article in the Los Angeles Times that opened like this:

“A small wooden cabinet went up for auction on EBay. Inside were two locks of hair, one granite slab, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick and, allegedly, one “dybbuk,” a kind of spirit popular in Yiddish folklore. The seller, a Missouri college student named Losif Nietzke, described the container as a “haunted Jewish wine cabinet box” that had plagued several owners with rotten luck and a spate of bizarre paranormal stunts.”

Inside contents of the original dybbuk box
Inside contents of the original dybbuk box

There are also several accounts documented by the original owner of the box in question. One such occurrence goes like this:

“At the time when I bought the cabinet, I owned a small furniture refinishing business. I took the cabinet to my store, and put it in my basement workshop where I intended to refinish it and give it as a gift to my Mother. I didn’t think anything more about it. I opened my shop for the day and went to run some errands leaving the young woman who did sales for me in charge. After about a half-hour, I got a call on my cell phone. The call was from my salesperson. She was absolutely hysterical and screaming that someone was in my workshop breaking glass and swearing. Furthermore, the intruder had locked the iron security gates and the emergency exit and she couldn’t get out. As I told her to call the police, my cell phone battery went dead. I hit speeds of 100 mph getting back to the shop. When I arrived, I found the gates locked. I went inside and found my employee on the floor in a corner of my office sobbing hysterically. I ran to the basement and went downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, I was hit by an overpowering unmistakable odor of cat urine (there had never been any animals kept or found in my shop). The lights didn’t work. As I investigated, I found that the reason the lights didn’t work also explained the sounds of glass breaking. All of the light bulbs in the basement were broken. All nine incandescent bulbs had been broken in their sockets, and 10 four-foot fluorescent tubes were lying shattered on the floor. I did not find an intruder, however. I should also add that there was only one entrance to the basement. It would have been impossible for anyone to leave without meeting me head-on. I went back up to speak with my salesperson, but she had left. She never returned to work (after having been with me for two years). She refuses to discuss the incident to this day. I never thought of relating the events of that day to anything having to do with the cabinet.”

A later occurrence relays a reoccurring dream experienced by the owner and any family members or friends who came into contact with the box:

“I find myself walking with a friend, usually someone I know well and trust at some point in the dream, I find myself looking into the eyes of the person that I am with. It is then that I realize that there is something different, something evil looking back at me. At that point in my dream, the person I am with changes into what I can only describe as the most gruesome, demonic looking Hag that I have ever seen. The Hag proceeds then, to beat the living tar out of me. I have awakened numerous times to find bruises and marks on myself where I had been hit by the old woman during the previous night.”

The authenticity of it all depends, essentially, on what you believe as the site says, “Here is the story of the haunted wine box, exactly as it appeared on eBay. You form your own opinion.” As far as the movie goes, on a scale of full price, matinee, Netflix, torrent, or streaming, I would give it a Netflix/torrent. The movie is not the most original thing I’ve ever seen, but its technical production is not completely wretched and it has some pretty excellent quotables. Plus, you get Matisyahu, The Closer, Papa Winchester, and the moths from Silence of The Lambs all in one movie.

For the Full Original Story:  Click here

For continued reading on dybbuks: Jewish Encyclopedia 

0 comments on “Movie Review: The Possession

  1. Great review! I think the scariest part was when Emily was talking in both voices in the morgue standing under the exit sign. I watched the movie with a few Dish coworkers and one said that the creepiest part for her was Emily on the swing and how demented she looked. I did like the movie enough to see it again, but I’m more than okay with waiting for it to come out on DVD and get it earlier than Redbox, which is why I’ve added it to my Blockbuster @Home queue. This movie somewhat ruined yard sales for me…

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