Another horror movie about a little girl possessed by a demon? Seriously?
Well, only half-seriously, and that's the saving grace of "The Possession," a story so overly familiar that director Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch") figured he might as well have fun with it. That seems like the right approach to a script that includes a mysterious box, a malevolent spirit and a stormy, streamy exorcism.
Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, "The Possession" faithfully follows the blueprint of its genre, beginning with the once-strong but now strained family unit. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick play Clyde, a workaholic basketball coach, and his ex-wife, Stephanie, who share custody of cheery little Em (Natasha Calis) and pouty tweenage Hannah (Madison Davenport). It's Em who brings the spooky box home from a yard-sale and unwittingly opens her soul to invasion.
Pretty soon, people start seeing things, Em's voice gets weird, Clyde's house is plagued by moths -- you know the drill, and "The Possession" knows that you know. It barely bothers to tell a story, but instead shuffles various vignettes into a greatest horror-hits playlist. Still, Bornedal's camera is such a likable ham, constantly sneaking up on folks and watching their eyes go all buggy that it's hard not to chuckle along.
Morgan ("The Watchmen") is rather charming as Clyde; Sedgwick is rather less so as the snippy ex-wife, though that may be her function. A twinkly eyed Jay Brazeau livens up the dreary role of the folklore professor who has to explain the obvious, and Matisyahu, the Jewish rapper, is one of the film's genuine bright spots as Tzadok, a twitchy, hip-hop Hasid from (where else?) Brooklyn.
"The Possession" may not be very scary, but it can be mildly entertaining. That's more than a lot of dead-serious horror-movies can say.
PLOT A young girl finds a mysterious box and makes the dreadful mistake of opening it. RATING PG-13 (violence, gory imagery)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A little humor helps liven up this trite tale, though genuine scares are in short supply.
Best (or worst) child movie hellions
Exercising is good for children -- for kids in horror movies, like Natasha Calis in "The Possession," exorcising is usually better. Here are some of the best movies about children who were little devils.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960, remade in 1995) -- An English village is taken over by innocent-looking blond tykes with seemingly perfect manners -- except for a bad habit of trying to kill off every adult in town.
ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) -- Expectant mom Mia Farrow has good reason for some pregnant pauses when she finds out that her future bundle of joy is a bad seed with roots to the coven of witches next door.
THE EXORCIST (1973) -- Linda Blair knew how to turn heads -- especially her own -- in director William Friedkin's creepfest as a girl possessed. Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge ("All the King's Men") deserves credit (which she got after suing Warner Bros.) for providing the voice of the demon inside Blair's Regan.
THE OMEN (1976) -- As Damien, little Harvey Stephens literally made life hell for parents Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in this thriller that spawned several inferior sequels and a disappointing 2006 remake with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles. -- Daniel Bubbeo