The Possession

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The Possession
Theatrical release poster
Directed byOle Bornedal
Written by
Based on"A Jinx in a Box?"
by Leslie Gornstein
Produced by
CinematographyDan Laustsen
Edited by
  • Eric L. Beason
  • Anders Villadsen
Music byAnton Sanko
Distributed byLionsgate
Release dates
  • August 30, 2012 (2012-08-30) (Hong Kong & Macau)
  • August 31, 2012 (2012-08-31) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$82.9 million[2]

The Possession is a 2012 American supernatural horror film directed by Ole Bornedal, written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, and produced by Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, and J. R. Young. It stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Grant Show, Madison Davenport, and Matisyahu. The story, based on the 2004 Los Angeles Times article "A Jinx in a Box?" by Leslie Gornstein, is about the allegedly haunted dybbuk box.[3]

The film was shot in 2011. Parts of the film were filmed at a former mental institution, Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Bornedal cited films such as The Exorcist as an inspiration, praising their subtlety.[4]

It was released in the United States on August 31, 2012, with the film premiering at the Film4 FrightFest and received mixed reviews from film critics; audience reception has been positive.[5]


A middle-aged woman stands in her living room looking at an old wooden box with Hebrew writing on it as it whispers and hums a Polish phrase, "Zjem twoje serce", which means "I will eat your heart". (The box is later said to originate from a Jewish Polish village in the 1920s–30s.) The woman prepares to destroy the box with a hammer, but she begins to shake uncontrollably. As she is unable to move, the left side of her face begins to droop and she is knocked to the floor by an unseen attacker, and the force throws her violently around the room. Her son arrives and finds his mother unconscious on the floor.

Basketball coach Clyde Brenek and his wife Stephanie are finishing up their divorce to go their separate ways. Their daughters – 10-year-old Emily "Em" and teenage Hannah – help Clyde settle into his new home during the weekend. At a yard sale, Em discovers a box, the same one from the middle-aged woman's living room. While holding the box, Em looks into a window of the woman's home and sees her lying in bed, now wrapped in bandages, and being attended to by a nurse. The woman looks out to see Em holding the box and screams in horror, startling Em. Clyde buys the box for her, and they later find that there seems to be no way to open it. That night, she hears whispering coming from the box. She is able to open it, and finds a tooth, a dead moth, a wooden figurine, and a ring, which she begins to wear. Em becomes solitary, and her behavior becomes increasingly disturbing, even becoming possessive over the box. At school, she violently attacks a classmate when he takes her box, resulting in a meeting with Clyde, Stephanie, the principal, and her teacher. Em's teacher recommends that she spend time away from the box, so it is left in the classroom. That night, curious about the mysterious noises from the box, the teacher tries to open it, but a malevolent force violently throws her out a window, murdering her.

Em tells Clyde about an invisible woman who lives in her box who says that Em is "special". Alarmed by her behavior, Clyde attempts to dispose of the box. During their next weekend at Clyde's, Em gets progressively more upset with the disappearance of the box and accuses Clyde of abusing her. Em flees the house and recovers the box. The voice from the box begins conversing with her in the Polish language, before seemingly possessing her. Stephanie finds out about the abuse accusations and has a judge prevent the children from being with their father.

Clyde takes the box to a university professor who tells him that it is a dybbuk box that dates back to the 1920s or '30s; it was used to contain a dybbuk, a dislocated spirit as powerful as a demon. Clyde enters Em's room and reads Psalm 91 until a dark but invisible force throws the Tanakh across the room. Clyde then travels to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn and learns from the rabbi Tzadok that the possession has three main stages; in the third stage, the dybbuk latches onto its human host, becoming one entity with it. The only way to defeat the dybbuk is to lock it back inside the box via a forced ritual. Upon further examination on the box, Tzadok learns that the dybbuk's name is "Abyzou", or "Taker of Children".

Em has a seizure and is taken to the hospital for an MRI. During the procedure, Stephanie and Hannah are horrified when they see the dybbuk's face in the MRI scans next to Em's heart. Clyde and Tzadok join the family at the hospital and attempt to conduct an exorcism, which results in a struggle between Clyde and the dybbuk. Clyde survives the attack, but the dybbuk is passed from Em to him. Tzadok performs a successful exorcism; Abyzou emerges from Clyde and crawls back into the box. The family is reunited, with Clyde and Stephanie's love rekindled.

Tzadok drives away with the box in Clyde's vehicle but the car is hit by a truck, killing him. The box lands safely some distance from the wreckage, and Abyzou's whispering is heard from it.



The film was shot in 2011 up till post production in July.

Bornedal stated that he was drawn to The Possession's script, having seen it as more of an allegory for divorce than as a true horror film.[3] Actors Sedgwick and Morgan were brought in to play the Breneks; Morgan chose to participate after seeing Calis' audition tape.[6] Parts of the movie were filmed at a former mental institution, Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia.[7]

The current owner, Jason Haxton, of the supposed dybbuk box discussed in the original "A Jinx in a Box?" article that the film was based on, offered to send it to producer Sam Raimi, who was interested yet reluctant. Raimi laughingly told an Entertainment Weekly interviewer, "I didn't want anything to do with it. I'm scared of the thing." He also told the interviewer that he was raised in a Conservative Jewish home: "You don't hear about dybbuks when you go to synagogue. I know the demonic lore of The Exorcist. But what does my faith believe about demonic possession? ... The stories chilled me to the bone."[8] Jeffrey Dean Morgan felt similarly: "In the research I did, I started getting creeped out. My girlfriend was like, 'Let's just make sure that we don't actually go near the real Dybbuk Box.'"[8]

"We were like, 'Hell, no,'" recalls screenwriter Juliet Snowden. "'We don't want to see it. Don't send us a picture of it.'"[9]

Director Ole Bornedal said, "Some really weird things happened. I've never stood underneath a neon light before that wasn't lit, that all of a sudden exploded. The worst thing was, five days after we wrapped the movie, all the props burned. This storage house in Vancouver burned down to the ground, and the fire department does not know the cause. I'm not a superstitious man, and I would like to say, 'Yeah, it's just a coincidence.'"[8]


Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics, although it received positive feedback from audiences. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 39% based on reviews from 101 critics, with an average rating of 5.10/10. The site's consensus states, "It may be based on a true story, but that doesn't excuse the way The Possession repeatedly falls back on hoary ghost movie clichés – or the unintentional laughs it provides."[10] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 45 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews", based on reviews from 26 critics.[11] Audiences polled by Cinemascore gave it a grade B,[12] an above average for the horror genre.[13]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3+12 stars, writing "The Exorcist has influenced a lot of films, and The Possession is one of the better ones".[14] Richard Roeper also gave the movie a B+.[15]

Box office[edit]

The Possession grossed $49.1 million in domestic market and $33.8 million in other territories. The film ranked #1 in its opening weekend, taking in an estimated $17.7 million, and an estimated $21.3 million for the full Labor Day Weekend.[13]

Skeptical analysis[edit]

A 2019 article in Skeptical Inquirer concluded that the supposed dybbuk box from the "Jinx" article "is not a Jewish wine cabinet from Spain but instead a minibar from New York." The author believes Kevin Mannis created the dybbuk box story "from whole cloth", and that "This elaborate story that started the entire legend was not an account of real supernatural events, but instead a fictional backstory he came up with to sell an ordinary and incomplete minibar."[16] The article includes a screen capture of a Facebook post made by Kevin Mannis. The post, dated October 24, 2015, states:[16]

I am the original creator of the story of The Dibbuk Box which appeared as one of my Ebay [sic] posts back in 2003. ... How about this – if you or anyone else can find any reference to a Dibbut [sic] Box anywhere in history prior to my Ebay post, I’ll pay you $100,000.00 and tattoo your name on my forehead.[16]


  1. ^ Kaufman, Amy (30 August 2012). "'The Possession' will scare off competition over slow Labor Day". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-01-01.
  2. ^ "The Possession (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  3. ^ a b "EXCL: Director & Cast Talk to Us About The Possession". Shock Till You Drop.
  4. ^ "(San Diego Comic-Con '12) 'The Possession' Director Ole Bornedal On Combining His Own Voice With The Ghosthouse Aesthetic". Bloody Disgusting. 15 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Film4 FrightFest unveils horror-filled lineup: 'Possession,' 'Chained,' 'Sinister' among screeners". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 19 January 2013.
  6. ^ "'The Possession' Stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis".
  7. ^ "'The Possession' Filmed at Eerie Locations for Full Effect". Toonari Post. July 2012. Archived from the original on October 29, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Collis, Clark (August 3, 2012). "Little Box of Horrors". Entertainment Weekly. pp. 50–55.
  9. ^ Lussenhop, Jessica (30 August 2012). "Devil's Wine Box: Missouri's tie to 'The Possession'". Riverfront Times.
  10. ^ "The Possession". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  11. ^ "The Possession". Metacritic.
  12. ^ McClintock, Pamela (August 30, 2012). "Box Office Report: 'Lawless' Tops Wednesday Chart With $1.1 Mil, Scores B+ From Auds". The Hollywood Reporter. The PG-13 film received a B CinemaScore and played heavily to girls and younger women, whom Lionsgate targeted.
  13. ^ a b Ray Subers (September 2, 2012). "Weekend Report: 'The Possession' Leads Typically Quiet Labor Day". Box Office Mojo. They awarded the movie a "B" CinemaScore, which is above-average for the genre (the all-time high is a "B+").
  14. ^ Roger Ebert. "Robert Ebert: Reviews: The Possession". Chicago Sun-Times.[dead link]
  15. ^ Richard Roeper: Reviews: The Possession. REELZCHANNEL.
  16. ^ a b c Biddle, Kenny (14 January 2019). "The Dibbuk Box". CFI. Archived from the original on 24 January 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2021.

External links[edit]