Ava’s Possessions Dir. Jordan Galland

[Momentum Pictures; 2016]

Styles: horror?
Others: The Exorcist II: The Heretic, Suburban Gothic, Cemetery Man

Ava’s Possessions, written and directed by Jordan Galland, comes with an incredibly strong premise, a superb cast, unique visual and audio touches that should all add up to a winner. Unfortunately, the entire film is poorly written and ultimately doesn’t know what to do with itself. The premise of following a woman after she’s possessed by a demon opens itself up to a lot of great possibilities: humor, pathos, horror, whatever the filmmaker envisions that works with mixing the mundane with the incredible. Here, however, the film never completely gels one way or the other, and eventually reveals itself to be a pretty weak mystery. Taken part by part, and just on paper, the film should work; but in its execution it flails and comes undone by its lack of committing to a tone or having a script as good as its premise.

Ava (Louisa Krause) was recently possessed by a demon. While under its spell, she committed numerous crimes and heinous acts against others around her. In order to avoid going to jail for her acts while under the demonic influence she enrolls in a support group for those who’ve recently been possessed by demons, led by the tough but earnest Tony (Wass Stevens). Haunted by her past she can’t quite remember, distanced from friends and family alike due to her actions, Ava must figure out what happened while she was possessed and make amends.

At first glance, Ava’s Possessions sounds like a great comedy: demonic possession is so prevalent in the film’s universe there’s an AA type support group for it. But I quickly realized it’s not. Everything is played straight. Once I realized the tone was not a comedic one, I was ready to be on board for whatever journey Galland wanted to take me on. Was it going to be a big metaphor for drug addiction and rehabilitation? Maybe a dramatic but harrowing descent into madness for the heroine as she barely maintains her stability while slowly sliding back under the influence? Or perhaps it would be a true horror film and feature various scary elements? Turns out it’s a bit of all of these things, but also none of them. Based on the use of lurid neon colors and lighting, the various cross cutting between demonic images, and the excellent score by Sean Lennon, it seems that Galland is going for a dreamy, almost giallo throwback. Unfortunately, nothing in the film supports that outside of those previously listed elements; the dreamlike logic and ongoing thematic imagery is never at play, and there’s never a sense that there’s more going on than what is being presented (even when the film dovetails into an unearned murder mystery and reveal).

The fact is, the proceedings are very boring. The horror aspects aren’t frightening, the fantasy aspects are inconsistent, the dramatic pull is never convincing, and the lack of humor in what is an obviously comic situation proves to be a giant mistake. But it is shot very well, and the actors are all exceptionally talented and commit to their (poorly written) parts, and that score is remarkable as well. Krause gives it her all (what the script allows her to do, anyways) in the part and her family (including the great William Sadler and Deborah Rush) are the highlights of the film, trying to wade through Ava’s wake of destruction. But the dialogue is never that engaging or interesting, the characters are fairly flat and don’t truly intrigue. A late blooming mystery should inject the film with some sort of urgency, but instead comes off as convoluted and unnecessary.

Ava’s Possessions is a dire mess that slogs its way through scenes that feel repetitive and boring. Galland is clearly a talented director, but the same can’t be said for his screenwriting. Had that same premise been in another writer’s hands, and Galland was to direct that version of Ava’s Possessions, then this could be a cult classic in the making. As it stands, it appears like a Frankenstein monster whose sum does not equal the greatness of its parts.

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