* * (this is one of those “meh” ** films not an interesting mess of a ** film)
Dir. Ole Bornedal
As a horror aficionado who is most interested in the genre’s religious thematics, I was drawn to this film because it is loosely based on a story based in turn on Jewish folklore. I’ve seen films with various Christian, various tribal/traditional (African and South American), Native American, Shinto, and New Age/Pagan exorcisms (or corollary rituals). But had not seen a film concerned with Jewish religious tradition.
But this film has little to do with Judaism. The film, based on a story from an ebay auction of a supposed Dybbuk box, has its roots in some Jewish folklore, but religion, until the third act as set dressing, is absent from the film and doesn’t play much of a role. The problem here is that in order for the demonic to really feel threatening, there needs to be some cosmological counter from the start. The Exorcist, the seminal film in the subgenre, begins with it’s Priests, and their own personal crises of faith are central to the film. In this case, the Hasidic exorcist is, aside from a beat in his introduction, a plot device.
The biggest problem is that the film is so painfully by the book that only its decent actors and does some interesting things formally with establishing shots and a few abrupt edits save it from being a total wash. I expected more from a Raimi/Tappart produced film from a director like Bornedal, who made the excellent Nightwatch (94) and it’s less excellent but still decent English remake (97). Then again, at times the film seems torn between Raimi’s over the top tone with seriousness, or Raimi’s pension for humor with a subtlety.
Finally, the film has some uncomfortable/unintentionally funny moments where its subtext is suddenly foregrounded. The film, like so many horror films, deals with the fractured family brought together again, and like many exorcism films it is about an innocent prepubescent woman experiencing the onset of puberty. Here, things get a bit strange when the girl literally warns people not to touch her box, and violently attacks those who get close to said box. I don’t want to sound crass here, and I’m not always sure a filmmaker needs to be totally held accountable for what their film really says versus what they said, but they should realize, at a level of this obviousness, when their film says something, or begs a reading that is-if not distracting or over the top, but outright campy.
On a final note, this did make me wonder if someone was working on a film adaptation of Joe Hills’ “Heart Shaped Box,” a superior buying something used that is haunted tale.