After an encounter with a screwed up kid – Matty (Atticus Shaffer) – she’s babysitting, Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) ends up with heterochromia – mixed color – in her eye. It soon becomes clear that she’s got a problem, and she starts looking for help. Her boyfriend Mark (Cam Gigandet) and her best friend Romy (Meagan Good) try to be supportive, even taking her to see an old woman – Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander) – that Casey’s mother had some interest in. It turns out that Sofi has information on the spirit that’s bothering Casey, and sends her to Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) who hooks up with Episcopal priest Arthur Wyndham (Idris Elba) to perform an exorcism….
So, a possession film, but one with a quasi-reincarnation bent? Sure, why not? The supernatural beastie in question is a dybbuk, a being from Jewish mythology that is not demonic, but is more like a ghost with a purpose. Like most evil spirits in religion, this one exists to explain psychological problems and to suggest that a person’s insanity is due to their lack of proper orthodoxy; sure, replace the need for compassion with harsh judgment, sounds like a good way to live one’s life. Now, with that out of the way, the dybbuk has been neglected as an evil spirit in horror and it’s nice to see one now and again, even if it is used in a film that’s as bad as anything ever produced by Michael Bay … which this was.
What does it explain? Well, it explains why the film is really predictable. Yes, the plot follows the generic plot formula technique that Michael Bay loves ever so much. Odd things happen, girl’s friends / family / doctors / priests don’t believe her, someone old believes her, people start dying, exorcism that ends in a death, with a twist ending that can be spotted from the first twenty minutes; A + B + C + D + E = F, which is an appropriate letter to represent the end result. Yeah, not good. Music (by Ramin Djawadi) is used to try to replace tension, blue filters are used to replace filmmaking, and camel toe is used to replace nudity – she clearly shaves her gefilte. Yes, there’s nudity-free sex, but at least there’s a reason to include sex in the film that renders the scene relevant to the plot by setting up the epic twist.
You see, the dybbuk was Casey’s twin brother who died in the womb from his umbilical chord strangling him and he now wants to live. Since Casey isn’t really doing much with her life, it seems that having her brother show up and take over would be a good thing, but she objects for some reason; perhaps some women don’t like the idea of their twin brothers being inside them? Well, the dybbuk makes an effort to possess Casey and she tries to get help, but, despite the cost in lives, it becomes clear that the dybbuk was successful because Casey is pregnant with twins and one of them will contain the soul of her brother. The nurse who shows Casey her ultrasound is really cheerful about congratulating a 19 year old that is pregnant with twins without considering that she might not be pleased. Not all pregnancies are welcome and, besides, telling a Jew she’s got two in the oven isn’t really nice, so you probably shouldn’t do it.
This all leads to the essential question of why the hell does the dybbuk do its thing? It has been quiet throughout its existence and wants to be born – Matty tells Casey this at the beginning of the film – so wouldn’t it make more sense to stay quiet and be born? Evil spirits make an excellent case that all Jewish women should screw a mezuzah to one side of their vaginae to protect them from getting a dybbuk box. Now, evil Jewish ghost shenanigans of the spirit boychik do encourage Casey to have unprotected sex with her boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean that she normally practiced safe sex; Mark would have to be a real prick to take advantage of his girlfriend being upset to go bareback, and if I know men, they would never abuse the trust of an emotionally unstable woman for their own pleasure because that would be wrong. Regardless, it would seem likely that after all the haunting events would lead Casey to seek out an abortionist as soon as possible or, if she lives in the American South, a dollar store to buy a wire hanger and a mirror. Haunting a woman that you want to give birth to you is a really bad idea, it might have made sense if she was seeking an abortion, but all haunting her did was serve as a warning. This dybbuk is pretty stupid.
Really, the dybbuk is something to be pitied since it is a spirit that is trapped between worlds as the result of nothing that it did itself. All it wants is to have the chance at a life that it was cheated out of because of its death in utero. So bringing the baby that houses the spirit to term would be a mitzvah on top of getting it to leave you alone, though I don’t know how much, if I was a mother – which will never happen for several reasons – I would appreciate a child that had been watching me for years and might be a little too big for his britches at birth. Furthermore, the dybbuk is already showing signs of being rude as it keeps slipping progressively larger blue color contact lenses into Casey’s eye to make her – much like Jennifer Grey‘s nose-jobs – look like a brazen shiksa, or even Aryan!
The dybbuk is a self-hating Jew! It must be stopped.
I suppose the idea of a ghost that’s childish because it was a child could be interesting – hell, it is in The Changeling with George C. Scott – because the idea of a child possessing a great deal of supernatural power without any maturity whatsoever has a terror that anyone who’s been around human spawn can understand. Perhaps the stupidity of the dybbuk is understandable if it’s still a child, but it really makes the film decrease in quality, though it does explain the dybbuk‘s temper tantrum when the exorcism occurs. So, yeah, the only other thing worth mentioning – as if any of this has been worth mentioning – is that exorcism. First of all, a joint Jewish and Christian exorcism is a bit on the unusual side, I’m not sure that would be allowed, but that would be an ecumenical matter. In addition to being remarkable in the first place, the exorcism is remarkably ineffective in application as it seems to do little more than thin the numbers of the clergy as well as eliminating unneeded sperm donors.
Speaking of Michael Bay, while this film is as connect-the-dots as a pearl necklace, there are some elements that aren’t total failures; there are some good performances, for example. Well, there are some acceptable performances and one good performance. Well, there are some barely adequate performances, some acceptable performances, and one okay one. As far as good acting goes, the best performance comes from professional weird-looking kid Atticus Shaffer who suffers from brittle bone disease and yet does a better job than the older pros; he’s not great, but he outclasses everyone else, especially when compared to average child actors. Let me just say it: good job kid. Something about brittle bone disease is some of the people who suffer from it have blue-colored sclera (white part of the eye), which makes them look like fragile Fremen or otherwise enthusiasts of melange. When it comes to the adults, old pros Gary Oldman and Idris Elba phone in their performances, and they’re in areas with bad service. Everyone else is just there, sometimes with camel toe.Amata never would have shown off camel toe, because, as the Overseer’s daughter, it would have subtracted from her gravitas. Still, I have to wonder how the dybbuk got inside Casey as her underwear looks tight enough to keep anything out. It must be said, however, that any woman who thinks her womb is possessed is probably hysterical.
One thing that does look pretty good – aside from the camel toe – is the possessed victims that have upside-down heads. Now, this is pretty weird-looking and falls right into the old uncanny valley, so that’s a good thing. For example, there’s this dog – I think it’s a white pit bull, but I’m not very knowledgeable about dogs – who visits Rabbi Sendak and barks at him with his cute little upside-down head, which convinces the Rabbi Sendak that Casey is not insane, thus triggering the exorcism; Where the Wild Things Are indeed. This meeting with the evil dog so unnerves him that he opens a Hebrew book up the wrong way before the scene even happens! That’s how creepy these things are. Yes, “things” as in plural, as there’s also the upside-down head dead old man and Romy. The effects used to produce the upside-down heads are good enough and are sufficiently unnerving that they makes the film good for a few moments. Then it’s back to the blandness.
Nothing else about the production stands out, it’s like a bowl of ramen noodles. Now, I don’t mean the good ramen that you can get in a Japanese restaurant, or the (presumably) better ramen available in Japan, no, I’m talking about the cheap dried noodle dish with spices that college students live on so they can buy more skunky marijuana and / or equally skunky beer. That is, it suffices as a way to fill up (time in this case, don’t be so goddamned literal) but isn’t good unless your standards are low because of pot or having a cold. So, what I’m saying, is this film is as good as a mouthful of warm, salty liquid.
Trailer on YouTube.