Demons: An Equal Opportunity Employer (The Possession)

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All demons are a little bit scarier to me when they’re occupying children. I, like many among us, think Sam Raimi is fabulous. He produced this movie. I can’t describe it, but I felt it’s Raimi-ness while I was watching it.

The opening of the film was actually well paced and did a nice little job of being creepy. At the start of the film, we see a lady in  her home, staring at a box on the living room mantel. The box is wooden and carved in Hebrew. She basically gets beat the hell up by some unseen force. It looks painful and uncomfortable. I thought it was a nice way to kick things off.  Now, lets get to know our lead characters. That would be mom and dad Clyde and Stephanie who are are recently divorced. On one of dad’s weekends with the kids Em (the younger) and Hannah (the older) they stop at a garage sale. Sadly, this garage sale is at the house from the opening scene. Dad buys Em the carved box. Uh-oh, thinks the audience! For we know they’ve now purchased a yucky old demon just chilling in there waiting to take hold of someone. We see from a window that the lady survived her ordeal, but is in a full body cast. She wiggles and squirms in panic upon seeing dear little Em outside with the box. In the scenes that follow slowly but surely Em is getting filled with the spirit, and not in a good way.  Scary hijinks and a little bit of death ensue. Dad uncovers the truth. He is able to enlist the help of Tzadok, a Rabbi’s son to perform the rites. The movie is a race against time to save young Emily’s life. That’s enough plot for now. I think you get what is going on here.

I had been looking forward to this movie for a while. I was intrigued for a few reasons. I was hooked in by the notion of a Jewish demon/Dibuk, by the Sam Raimi produced goodness, the fact that I like the actors in the movie (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick) and that I am always down for a good old creepy kid movie. I won’t go as far to say this movie disappoints. I can’t really articulate what about this movie made it not quite a homerun. It’s predictable. But I didn’t hate it! I sat down with my delicious movie popcorn and enjoyed the ride. I cringed and held my breath in a couple key moments. No, it didn’t “scare” me. The basic formula of this movie was just that, a formula. I am trying to not hold all horror movies accountable for needing to be the most original thing ever. But, I do want to be entertained and creeped out when I see a horror movie. That is my goal above all.

Yes, this movie is very Hollywood. I never claimed to be a purist that only watched independently made horror. I know this movie also got both praised and criticized for being based on actual events. Since seeing the movie, I have watched and read some articles on the whole thing. I can’t say if it’s real or not, but it sounds pretty freaky. I admit I am not an expert on demons. Jewish, Catholic or otherwise. So I can’t really claim to know if anything they present about the Dibuk is accurate. I’m sure I liked this movie more because I’m not a know-it-owl on the original case and demons in general. I don’t mind going on record saying The Possession was far from the worst horror movie I saw this year.

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When Bad Movies Happen to Good Actors: House at the End of the Street (A Cautionary Tale)

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I would like to introduce you to a movie that would have been much better if it had been rated R. Rated R and/or re-written. Honestly, I am tempted to end my review at that. This is going to contain some spoilers, people. If you don’t want to know the cold hard truth, then do not read on.

I know that the powers that be behind this film felt they had “no choice” but to  stick to a PG 13 rating in order to collect monies from the young adult crowd who flocked en masse to the Hunger Games. For those who are really out of the loop, Jennifer Lawrence stars in both that franchise and the movie we’re reviewing here today. However, someone clearly forgot that slasher movies perform much better when rated R. Let me back up again. I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. And if any other actress was in this role, it would have been too painful to watch.

I saw the trailer for this movie months before it came out. Since I watch a lot of trailers, it stuck in my mind grapes as Jennifer Lawrence in a ghost movie! How neat! Why did I think this was a haunted house movie?!? I must have been highly medicated. Upon sitting down in the theater I quickly realized my error. Here is some plot for ya: Teenager Elissa and her single mom move into an impressive big house on the edge of a state park. There is a house next door to them. It is at the end of the “street.” Hence the title. Anyway, in that neighboring house a double murder took place at the hands of a crazy teenager named Carrie Ann. Yes, that was a double murder meaning she killed both her parents. The girl ran into the woods and is presumed dead by the townsfolk to this very day. Elissa and mom soon learn the mysterious house at the end of the street is in fact not vacant. The surviving teenage son who was living with an aunt at the time of the killings is still living there. Obviously, the next logical plot device is for Elissa to fall in love with the beautiful weirdo boy, named Ryan.

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Allow me to snarkily dissect what we have thus far. Upon seeing the house, mom tells Elissa the double murder is why they can even afford this house. Elissa replies back with some disparaging remark that at their old hood people getting killed on their street never lowered the rent. Aww, bummer! I thought to myself. Elissa and her single mom are regular poor folks just trying to get by! I did think it was hilarious to imagine the lovely Ms. Lawrence and her mother played by Elizabeth Shue living in the ghetto. But, I rolled with it.  We come to find out a little more about their family. Dad was some kind of a rockstar/musician. Mom was a groupie (teenage? not clear) slut. Dad was the type of dude who only stuck around to teach his kid how to play guitar like a boss and cook pasta. Ya know, that old cliche. What does mom do for a living, you may ask? Waitress? Receptionist? Personal Assistant? IT Tech Support? Actually, mom is an ER doctor. Why the ER doctor and her daughter lived in the ghetto and now have a murder-bargain house as all they can afford is beyond me. Perhaps mom also has a severe online gambling addiction?

Anyway, Elissa first meets Ryan when he gives her a lift home in the rain after she is nearly date raped by a snobby rich neighbor kid. Oh, by the way, the entire town is grossed out by Ryan. They think he is weird and drives down property value. I personally could not find what she  “sees” in Ryan in order to fall for him. Her mom says its because she likes to fix broken people. Well girl, you just hit the busted and broken boy lottery.

Now we get into spoiler territory. Be warned. You see, the crazy sister Carrie Ann is not dead. Ryan keeps her locked in a basement room all day! He feeds her, looks after her, and injects her with something when she gets cranky. Yes, Ryan is Prince Charming, clearly. I have a sister in real life who I love dearly. I would never keep her in a basement under any circumstances. It’s simply not done.  Kids, if your boyfriend keeps his crazy sister in the basement, that should be a red flag. We get a few jumpy type scares a couple times in the movie when Carrie Ann attempts to escape. During one of her little attempts at freedom, Carrie Ann gets too close to some kids making out. Ryan has to silence her deranged screams and accidentally kills her. So, he puts her in the trunk of his car to dispose of her body. Again, this is not sane behavior from Ryan. In the midst of all this, they try to weave in some “average teenager” stuff. For instance, there is a Battle of the Bands Elissa is going to participate in. She gets a BFF! The dialogue with all the young people sounds as if a 50 year old man once heard teenagers talking at the mall.  He then transcribed it as best he could. It becomes clunky and forced.

Here is the rest of the plot. And some more spoilers. The Carrie Anne we’ve seen thus far is not really Carrie Anne. Carrie Anne died when they were kids in a swing set accident. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Ryan likes to abduct girls and turn them into Carrie Anne’s. When “Carrie Anne” tried to escape earlier, she was trying to get help! Cause Ryan is a psycho! Their Heroin addicted parents covered it up when they were children. And by covering it up they made Ryan “assume” the role of Carrie Ann for his adolescent years. Gross! Creepy! Eventually he snapped and killed them. Elissa figures out Ryan is the killer after he has already procured a new Carrie Anne. But once Ryan knows the truth, he decides Elissa would be a fabulous sister. Cause he is attracted to her. It’s a little sick and twisted. So, all of that plot chunk is actually potentially good story telling. I didn’t see the twist coming to be honest. Then again, I thought this was a ghost movie. I am proud that I never cared for Ryan and thought he was too odd to be likeable. I was right! Granted this was a small victory. I still had to sit through the rest of this craziness.

So, remember how the movie is PG 13? After being discovered as the killer, Ryan stabs a cop in the stomach with a steak knife. Just sinks it in like butter.The cop is now dead. We have met this policeman earlier in the movie as he’s some kind of love interest for mom. Now,  I am no expert, and I know if untreated one can die from such a wound to the stomach.  And yet, c’mon people! Mom also takes a steak knife to the gut. Only she pops up again a few minutes later to wield a hammer blow (no blood shown) to Ryan as if she were John Henry himself. But that is not all. Ryan also gets shot by Elissa three times in the chest. The last scene of the film is Ryan in a padded cell putting together a jigsaw puzzle and then looking into the camera. Because the sucker did not die. I feel for the cop. It’s not fair he died from his injury when other mortals laugh at such pain. It’s absurd, silly and not at all terrifying that he is still living.

Maybe you have figured it out by now. This movie could have been much better if we got some real “murders” and mortal wounds that actually looked painful and deadly. And more blood. Always more blood! And we could have totally done with out any of the incredibly stilted teenage dialogue. I just felt like this movie was rigged together with post it notes and unicorn stickers.  The premise was good! What happened?! Alas, I was entertained but for all the wrong reasons.

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