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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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"The Possession" hits theaters today.
"The Possession" hits theaters today.

"The Possession" loses its grip on reality

It seems like every horror movie these days is "based on a true story." In our cynical age, it's unlikely anyone is walking into "The Possession" thinking that everything on screen really happened. And despite a solidly chill-inducing first hour, its absurd and goofy final act will ensure it.

"Watchmen"'s Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Clyde, a successful small-town college basketball coach. Unfortunately, his family life is less of a slam-dunk. He's been divorced from his wife ("The Closer"'s Kyra Sedgwick) for a year, putting a strain on his relationship with his two little girls.

During a rare happy weekend with his daughters, however, the youngest, Emily (Natasha Calis), finds a mysterious wooden box at a yard sale. The girl starts behaving unnervingly different, becoming distant and attacking anyone who attempts to come between her and her treasured box.

As her symptoms escalate and the body count begins to rise, Clyde discovers the box may be the home of a dibbuk, a vengeful spirit hoping to enter the land of the living again. The only hope for his daughter may be an exorcism, performed by a young Jewish priest played by popular Jewish musician Matisyahu (pre-shaved beard and hair).

The first two acts of "The Possession" aren't without faults. Much of the character development revels in clichés – is there any doubt work-obsessed Clyde won't make his oldest daughter's much-anticipated dance performance? – and Danish director Ole Bornedal has a peculiar habit of quick cutting to black in the middle of a scary scene, a technique that subtracts more than it adds.

What Bornedal does exceptionally well, with the help of his screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, is escalate the chill-inducing tension. Moths start infesting the house (far more unnerving than "The Apparition"'s mold and knotted clothes), and Emily's behavior grows more unpredictable as the possession gets stronger. She stabs her dad in the hand but is immediately apologetic afterwards …

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While you're waiting for "The Possession," check out these five underrated horror flicks.
While you're waiting for "The Possession," check out these five underrated horror flicks.

Five underrated horror movies

"The Possession," the new Sam Raimi-produced horror flick coming out this weekend, looks pretty solid. Then again, the same thing could have been said of "The Apparition" before audiences found out they could find more scares in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

Horror movies are often boom or bust, and at $10 a ticket, it's an expensive gamble. So, in case this latest exorcism chiller falls on its pea-soup vomiting face, here are five underrated horror films that you can watch in the comfort of your own home (probably with the lights on).

"The Descent"

This terrifying 2005 British horror saga about a posse of female friends on a caving trip hits almost every phobia a person could have. If you're afraid of the dark, most of the film takes place in a pitch-black cave with only flashlights and glow sticks to light the way. Claustrophobic? Try to watch a scene in which the women squeeze through a shudder-inducingly tight tunnel. There's even a gnarly leg fracture for squeamish viewers.

And that's all before the cave-dwelling, bloodthirsty crawlers show up.

Between the creepy creatures and gore (it's most known for a sequence involving a massive blood pool), there's plenty to be afraid of in Neil Marshall's cult horror classic. What makes the film really stick, however, is the tense psychological conflict between our heroines. As they journey further into the cave, the women's bond becomes strained as secrets and sad pasts come to the surface. It's viscerally and mentally chilling, especially if you watch it with the far superior original ending.

"Inside"

The premise of "Inside" is one of the most disturbing concepts to hit the screen. The 2007 French horror film follows one night with a very pregnant young woman who is being terrorized by a mysterious guest who wants just one thing: her unborn baby. And she plans to take it by force.

Many people reading that synopsis are probably incensed, disturbed and will avoid "Inside" for the rest of the…

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Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," in theaters now.
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," in theaters now.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" a mainstream rom-com in disguise

Most indie romantic comedies all start to read like a collection of remakes. Every one has the same set of characters with the same set of issues, working their same trendy jobs and hanging out with the same band of friends while the same indie soundtrack plays during montages.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" is different in the fact that it's not an indie movie. Sure, it wears the disguise of one – the hip soundtrack, the intimate glamour-free camerawork – but the reality is this is just another mainstream rom-com about a working girl bumbling in love. If is starred Anna Faris or Katherine Heigl, trendy moviegoers wouldn't touch it.

Maybe that's not exactly fair (Faris and Heigl's films aim far lower than this and still struggle to hit that mark), but it hints at the insincerity of the whole project that refuses to let it feel as honesty and emotional as it desires.

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star as the title duo, a recently divorced couple whose attempts to maintain their close friendship post-split is freaking out their best friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen). They seem too comfortable; the two do everything together, act cutesy together and Jesse still lives in the small studio behind Celeste's house.

Their cozy post-divorce life gets unraveled when Jesse discovers a one-night stand from several months back resulted in a pregnancy. He'd like to make that relationship work, leading Celeste into a downward spiral of misguided dating experiences, soul-searching and a lot of ranch dressing.

Complicating matters is her job at a trend agency, managing a snotty, shrill teen music star. A game Emma Roberts plays the pop tart while an entertaining Elijah Wood plays her boss.

Much like "Lola Versus" from earlier in the summer, most of the film follows Celeste's attempts at getting back into the dating scene and embarrassing herself in the process. None of the sequences end up feeling particularly genuine nor end up especially funny.

It's the kind o…

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"The Apparition" hits theaters today.
"The Apparition" hits theaters today.

Lifeless "Apparition" nothing to be scared of

It's fitting that mold plays such a significant role in "The Apparition." The PG-13 horror film has been growing some mold of its own sitting on Warner Bros.' shelf, waiting to be released.

Now, after being pushed back almost an entire year, it's finally (and unceremoniously) being released, albeit into a miniscule 810 theaters, making it one of the studio's smallest nationwide releases. Jeez, Warner Bros., it's almost as though you don't want people to see this movie.

It seems the studio's precautions are entirely validated, as "The Apparition" offers very little in terms of entertainment and even less in scares.

"Twilight" cast member Ashley Greene stars as Kelly, a young veterinary student who's renting a nice new house with her tech support boyfriend Ben ("Captain America"'s Sebastian Stan). The couple is cute and happy until a serious of strange unexplainable events start bothering their comfortable life. Doors blow open, strange ash appears on the counter and mold starts growing everywhere. A dog even dies, though frankly, it looked more like the dog just went to sleep. I sympathize with him.

It turns out several years earlier, Ben was involved with a strange college experiment with a British colleague (Tom Felton, better known as Draco Malfoy from "Harry Potter") who wanted to create a ghost with the sheer power of belief. Of course, it went horribly awry, and the consequences are now haunting our band of attractive post-grads.

Even with the most basic of horror movie premises (ghost haunts people), "The Apparition" manages to be far more confusing than it needs to be. Characters' motivations and actions become almost impossible to understand. The film's climax involves some kind of ghost extermination involving strange blue lamps that I honestly couldn't attempt to explain.

First-time writer/director Todd Lincoln's script can't even seem to decide what the ghost is. The college experiment was based on a thin, gaunt man na…

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