Just when you think filmmakers had all but exhausted the demonic possession subgenre, giving us all that could possibly be wrung from it, along comes writer/director Jordan Galland and Ava’s Possessions. Making its world premiere at the 2015 edition of the SXSW Film Festival, the film takes the unorthodox route in demonic possession stories by picking up the story post-exorcism. And as expected, just like in the mafia, you don’t walk away scot-free. But is it enough to give viewers something different?
After being possessed for 28 days, Ava (Louisa Krause) is finally free of her demon. Having no memory of the past month, she agrees to sign on with a support group for people like herself in hopes of undoing the damage done in her life (as well as having the charges against her dropped). While in the group, Ava comes to learn that despite her parents Bernard and Joanna (William Sadler and Deborah Rush), sister (Whitney Able), and sister’s fiancé (Zachary Booth) being there for her during the ordeal, they seem to be harbouring a secret from her that hides a sinister truth about the possession.
Obviously, the highlight of a possession film that tells the tale of the aftermath of a possession is going to be the story. No matter how bad that story might be. Joking aside, the story Ava’s Possessions is seriously its strong point. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a competent story (Exorcist 2, anyone?) that explores the consequences of the events of a demonic possession in a grounded way. Well, as grounded as things would get in this film’s universe. The film takes the notion that society believes that possession is a real thing, and as such comes up with situations (such as the stereotype of being “that type of person” who gets possessed) that are kind of fun to explore. It adds a kind of absurdity to the film that isn’t necessarily played up for laughs, but still evokes a certain amount of humour that adds another dimension to the film. There’s still a serious tone to the film, but the variety of tones that make up the story definitely keeps things interesting. I also dug the choice of colours used in the film. Props to cinematographer Adrian Correia for presenting the film’s bright colour palette. It’s again not something you see every day in the genre.
From an acting and character standpoint, Krause nails it as Ava with a realistically straight performance. Ava definitely comes across as someone who wants to get her life back on track, and at the same time trying to make amends for what happened. Thanks again in part to Galland’s script, the film succeeds in getting you to feel for Ava. Going back to that previously-mentioned stereotype within the film, Ava surprisingly doesn’t receive much sympathy from her family, despite them knowing fully that she was possessed. It not only feeds into the mystery of just what her family’s hiding from her, but also earns her the sympathy needed from the audience. Krause isn’t the only one on point in the film. Practically the entire cast gets what’s needed to make this film work. Lending credibility are the performances by veterans William Sadler and Deborah Rush, who nail what’s required in their roles and the story.
In spite of some great stuff in the story and performances, Ava’s Possessions does have some slips. Its experimental story might not gel with those who are more accustomed to the possession subgenre, especially with the fact that the film doesn’t venture into outright horror. By the same token, the humour won’t play well with everyone, even though it’s not flaunted. The story itself isn’t without subjective flaws, mind you. There are subplots (such as Ava’s romance with Lou Taylor Pucci’s character) that feel underdeveloped and are subsequently left by the wayside in order to focus on the main story. Also, the ending is a bit abrupt with its rapid-fire resolution, and is a marked difference from the way the film was building up to this point. It’s not the expected smooth landing after the pleasant 89 minute flight.
Flaws and all, Ava’s Possessions is still something genre fans tired of the usual possession story willing to try something new will enjoy. The story is not only a different take, but is also strong, and backed by some great acting. While the mixing of different tones without going straight into horror won’t be to everyone’s liking, it’s still a unique film that deserves a watch to see that not every possession film has to be told the same way.