A well worn horror staple since 1973, demonic possession films need to forge their own identity to stand out. Ava’s Possessions from writer-director Jordan Galland does so in a variety of ways from beginning its story just after the exorcism itself concludes and by taking a satirical look at the entire sub-genre entirely from the view of the person previously possessed. In this case, that person is Ava wonderfully played by Louisa Krause. Galland follows his lead as she struggles to pick up the pieces scattered about due to surviving her possession. She faces a number of obstacles: lack of memory, legal ramifications, destroyed career, financial obligations and friends that no longer trust her every move. In Ava’s new world, the courts order her to attend a government and church sanctioned recovery program – an AA for those with demons, literally. Ava’s Possessions is a creative, imaginative spin on the genre but it often struggles keeping the balance between horror, drama and comedy. Sometimes it works – Dan Folger as Ava’s lawyer explaining her legal options; sometimes it wobbles – Carol Kane as a oddities shop owner who Ava pumps for information. It also suffers from too many ideas that stop short of being fully realized whether it be the AA program that attempts to bring back the demon so the inflicted can banish it on their own terms or a one-note pimp encountered while possessed who has a ridiculously overstated black eye.
The script for Ava’s Possessions follows Ava (Louisa Krause) as she recovers from being recently possessed. The film begins with her awakening in the arms of a priest who has just banished the demon and saved her life. She has no recollection of the event or the things she did while under the demon’s influence. Her friends and family are timid in her presence fearing she is still possessed. Facing charges from misdemeanors to indecent exposure, she is left little choice but to participate in a 12-step like program called Spirit Possession Anonymous. She is encouraged to trace her steps, to recover the lost memories, to make amends with those she may have encountered. This leads her on an unexpected path uncovering more outside forces in her life beyond her own personal demon.
The main thing that Ava’s Possessions impresses upon its viewer is its approach to its horror sub genre made popular by The Exorcist and ripped off by every possession film since. To that Ava’s Possessions shares a variety of intriguing and entertaining ideas and concepts, many worth exploring on their own merits. The idea that the story begins after the demon has been exorcised from Ava is a challenging idea all by itself, one that deserves such exploration. Louisa Krause portrays Ava as a confused, damaged and suspicious, her few efforts to be afraid of her own shadow, to explore the undercurrent horror of her situation, are diluted by the “addict recovering from a bender” approach to the whole ordeal. There lies the problem with Krause’s performance – though through no fault of her own – neither idea is explored with consistency or focus. One moment she’s the addict, the next she’s haunted by the demons – both metaphorically and physically (in the cinematic sense). It strains how the audience will connect with the lead, the more the viewer can gravitate to both ideas, the better Ava’s Possessions will fare.
Ava’s Possessions has a number of supporting roles for familiar character actors to have some fun with. Carol Kane plays to type as a ditsy shop owner with secrets to Ana’s grievous affliction. William (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) Sadler and Deborah (Orange is the New Black) Rush play Ava’s parents with a hushed paranoia and distrust. Some-thing’s afoot with those two. Dan (Hellbenders, Hannibal) Folger is surprisingly solid and understated as JJ Samson, Ava’s Lawyer avoiding playing the jokes in his dialog too broad. Lou Taylor (Evil Dead) Pucci gives Ava’s romantic interest Ben far more charisma than his character is allotted – a little more of his character and the relationship between him and Ava would have been interesting. Wass (The Wrestler) Stevens makes a strong impression as Tony, the man behind Spirit Possession Anonymous.
For horror fans, Ava’s Possessions is far more interesting the closer it gets to the possession and exorcism aspects of the plot than the lighter addict commentary and sly humor. The more it explores the darker edges of its world, the more interesting and compelling Ava’s Possessions becomes. At one point, Ava works with another member of Spirit Possession Anonymous to free her demon. The release of the re-possessed character is fascinating and well done. The later repercussions explored when Ava later visits her at the hospital even more so as it implies a willingness to become possessed and the short-lived benefits of a mutual co-existence between mortal and demon. Regrettably, like many of the ideas scattered throughout Ava’s Possessions, these shiny nuggets are quickly cast aside. And then just when the film seems that it will drive down a path of deep character exploration, it takes a sharp left turn down a poorly paved road of twist endings and conspiracy. This may satisfy many but will likely taste more like burnt toast, editable if you butter it enough.
Ava’s Possessions from Jordan Galland is ripe with terrific ideas and concept, a fresh and gripping twist on the standard and overused possession horror sub genre. The direction is solid handling both the humor with confidence and the horror with an attentive eye. It contains some nice gruesome reveals including a shocking heart-eating shot that will titillate horror fans. The acting holds the film together as the film balances it unfocused approach to the narrative. Louisa Krause impresses as Ava and Lou Taylor Pucci proves he should be cast more often. And there’s always room for more William Sadler. Ava’s Possessions succeeds in suggesting a new way to look at the standard demon possession film that should provide more than enough entertainment for fans of the genre.
Ava’s Possessions (3 / 5)
Ava’s Possessions opens in cinemas and on VOD March 4th, 2016 from Momentum Pictures.