Dave's Rating:

3.0

Sympathy for the Jewish Devil

My current favorite internet meme is a photo taken of a page from a recently published religious tract. Its certainly-hallucinating author's favorite sins take up the entire page, an exhausting list of evil deeds both mainstream and obscure (Google "remote viewing" if you need to), each one of them guaranteed to make it super easy for a demon to possess your soul. Here's that list. It's long but thrilling:

"Eastern religions, yoga, Freemasonry, Illuminati groups, New Age religions, Church of Satan, Scientology, Rosicrucianism, astrology, Tarot cards, Ouija boards, remote viewing, palmistry, voodoo, Paganism, Wicca, Cyberpunk culture, divination, meditation, vegetarianism, lycanthropy, postmodernism, backward masking, astral projection, necromancy, re-birthing, Kabbalah, Lord of the Rings, fire-walking, levitation, alt-comix, vampirism, trilateralism, marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, video games, Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons, Halloween, fornication, Skull & Bones, rock music, heavy metal, Burning Man, Twilight, raves, Ecstasy [and] Goth culture."

I said "exhausting," by the way, not exhaustive, because while this list includes both plant-based diets and a secret society at Yale, it fails to mention dybbuks, which are demons of Jewish mythology. It's possible that the tract's writer meant to include them under the trendy Kabbalah umbrella, but I doubt it. In any case, this entertaining ripoff of The Exorcist (with at least one element reminiscent of Exorcist 2: The Heretic tossed in for grins) is here to rectify the problem of relative under-representation regarding Jewish demons in contemporary cinema.

Much like Linda Blair in 1973, little Emily (Natasha Calis) and her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) are the unhappy children of divorce (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, both passively aggressive). On visitation days, Dad guiltily feeds his daughters pizza and -- oops -- buys Emily a sealed wooden box of death at the world's weirdest garage sale, despite the voices coming from inside it and the blood-curdling screams of warning from its former owner.

Bad things happen, including random Omen-like deaths of minor characters, really intense pancake consumption, a swarm of giant moths swirling around a catatonic Emily's bedroom, extreme dentistry and the presence of some pesky fingers that keep waving at the camera from the back of the kid's throat. Dad worries that his youngest is not quite herself, an MRI proves the presence of an Andy Serkis-like creature making creepy faces inside her torso and then rapper Matisyahu, the orthodox hip-hop exorcist, is called in to do the dybbuk-ridding honors. Cue the levitation.

And what's great about all of this goofiness is how seriously everyone is taking it. You get straight faces, emotional connection beyond the call of duty from Morgan, better than average body-horror moments and a willingness on the part of the filmmakers to push the PG-13 into what becomes a sustained mood of truly spooky whatever-it-is. It's good looking, too, with a color palette saturated in crisp autumn browns, greens and grays, the heavy, deep, black shadows as effectively ominous as the script is silly. You could do way worse (The Apparition, its current box office competition, comes to mind), at least until the inevitably disappointing sequel pops out of that bad, bad box.

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