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Movie Review

Think outside the box.

You've likely heard this phrase a lot over the years—from your parents or teachers or well-meaning but cliché-obsessed editor. And, really, the sentiment is quite nice: It's always good to look at things from outside the confines of a given system, to consider a problem from a new angle or direction. To imagine the possibilities, not just the probabilities.

'Course, this sort of advice shouldn't be given to just anyone. Take dibbuks, for instance.

According to Jewish legend, dibbuks are evil spirits bent on all sorts of malevolent mischief—and therefore must be trapped in boxes so they'll stay out of our hair and we'll stay reasonably safe and curse-free. Jewish rabbis tasked with boxing up these spirits fill 'em (the boxes) with all manner of talismans, charms and doodads designed to trap and keep the dibbuks inside.

So opening a box with a dibbuk in it—thus encouraging said spirit to not just think, but act outside its cozy, consecrated confines—is just begging for trouble.

Thankfully, the boxes are typically covered with engraved warnings to not, under any circumstances, open them.

Disastrously, they're all in Hebrew.

This can be a serious problem, say, when a dibbuk-filled box kills off its previous owner and lands in an estate sale frequented by non-Hebrew-reading shoppers. What if a little girl named Emily should take a shine to the thing? What if she should talk her dad—a dad already feeling guilty for putting the fam through a divorce and not spending enough time with his kids—into buying it for her? What if she should take it home and pry it open, allowing the nasty spirit inside to escape its wooden prison? What might happen?

Well, truthfully, I have no idea. But The Possession has some out-of-the-box thoughts on the matter.

Positive Elements

The dibbuk box lands in the midst of a broken family. Clyde is a devoted but sometimes distracted dad whose career ambitions undercut his familial duties. It was a big reason why he and one-time wife Stephanie split a year earlier, but the guy still hasn't learned his lesson: He's still late to pick up the girls and misses his daughter's dance performance because he can't break away from work. Divorce is always hard on families, particularly the kids—and Clyde's fatherly lapses don't help.

But the dibbuk, for all its obviously heinous flaws, does force Clyde to reevaluate his priorities. He shows a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter. And when the crisis is over, we see a family on the mend: He and Stephanie have reconciled, and he turns down a prestigious career opportunity to remain with his wife and daughters. Through this family's trials, we see how important it is to be an attentive husband and devoted father. We see how hard divorce can be on the kids. And we get a sense that love can truly overcome the worst sorts of evil.

Spiritual Content

The dibbuk is obviously a creature of spirit, one believed in predominantly (we're told) by Hasidic Jews. But it also appears to have physical substance as well, making a home in Emily's innards. We see the creature's body outlined in an MRI, see its fingers feel around the inside of the girl's throat and watch as Emily eats voraciously—because the dibbuk inside seems always hungry.

Once Clyde's convinced that Emily has indeed been possessed by the dibbuk, he researches the phenomenon online. He watches grainy clips of a few exorcisms, then decides to perform one himself—beginning by reading Psalm 91 aloud. It does not go well.

Clyde consults a venerated Hasidic rabbi who's surrounded by several other presumably holy men, but they refuse to help. "This must be left to the will of God," the rabbi says. "If this was your child, would you leave it to the will of God?!" Clyde protests. Only one man—the rabbi's son, Tzadok—agrees to help, informing Clyde that his religious tenets require him to take action when someone's life is in jeopardy.

The exorcism itself involves the use of candles, oil (a symbol of light, as water is a symbol of darkness) and some personal belongings of Em's family to be placed in the box—effects that somehow help compel the dibbuk to stay put. The ceremony involves prayer and chanting.

We learn that a mirror on the inside the box also has significance—a reminder to the creature inside that it turned its face from God. A painting of the Last Supper hangs in the house of one of the box's previous owners.

Sexual Content

At most, Clyde and Stephanie chuckle and blush over a previous sexual encounter. Stephanie's new boyfriend is at her place for breakfast (but she insists that he hasn't moved in). Hannah, Em's older sister, dances in the garage using ever-so-slightly sensuous moves.

Violent Content

The dibbuk kills when it can.

Under its power, a woman suffers a horrible seizure: Her face sags and her eyeballs roll back before she begins thrashing about her living room—finally arching her back until it cracks and then sending her face crashing through a coffee table. Another woman, bleeding from her eyes, is thrown around a classroom—smacking walls and desks before she's hurled by invisible hands through a closed window. (She presumably falls to her death.)

The dibbuk nearly strangles someone, almost kills someone else with a glass shard and hits several folks with frightful fury. We see the creature's fingers in Emily's throat and later see it claw its way out of someone's body through the mouth. A man pulls out all his teeth, leaving his mouth a bloody, gaping maw. A woman pulls a clump of her own hair out. A man covered in bandages screams when he sees the box.

When Emily, under the influence of the dibbuk, says some nasty things to her father, something strikes her in the face twice. It's not Clyde, but Em thinks it is, and she screams in fear and horror. "My dad doesn't like me anymore," she confesses heartbreakingly to her beloved box. Hannah, who sees part of the episode from behind, believes her dad is beating Em as well. Emily stabs her father's hand with a fork.

Stephanie, barefoot, walks across a floor covered in broken glass. Brett later plucks pieces of glass from her feet. A semi plows into a car, leaving a trail of wreckage.

Crude or Profane Language

One s-word. "A‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑" show up once or twice each. God's name is misused a half-dozen times. Jesus' name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Stephanie drinks wine. After Brett gently mentions that it's her second glass and she should save some for supper, she sneaks a third.

Other Negative Elements

Even when not under the influence of an evil spirit, Clyde's daughters sometimes treat him a bit disrespectfully. And against the express wishes of Stephanie, Clyde buys his daughters pizza for dinner, then jokingly tries to keep Em from tattling on him by way of a little bribery.

Em often gags on the unseen presence inside her.


There is, apparently, a box out there in the real world that some say is infected with a dibbuk—one that has allegedly caused a string of owners no end of grief. The box is quite a bit larger than the one in the movie and hasn't (so far as the reports indicate) possessed a 10-year-old girl. But its story was enough to make Sam Raimi—director of spooky movies like The Evil Dead and not-so-spooky fare like the original Spider-Man trilogy—want to make a movie based on it.

"You don't hear about dibbuks when you go to synagogue," Raimi told Entertainment Weekly. "The stories chilled me to the bone."

The Possession is pretty chilling in its own right. Producer Raimi and director Ole Bornedal know their way around the horror genre, and it shows. Superficially resembling both The Exorcist and The Ring, its tone, themes and chaotic spirituality, while solidly PG-13, could easily shake and disturb and mislead not just sensitive kids, but adults as well. And when it comes to those kids, the dibbuk's propensity to prey on children—innocents who can do little to defend themselves—makes the film even more jarring.

Just like the box at its center, this movie should have a warning engraved on it—and not just in Hebrew.

Pro-social Content

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clyde; Natasha Calis as Emily; Kyra Sedgwick as Stephanie; Madison Davenport as Hannah; Grant Show as Brett; Matisyahu as Tzadok


Ole Bornedal ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

August 31, 2012

On Video

January 15, 2013

Year Published



Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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