By Andrew Buckner
**** out of *****.
Ava’s Possessions, from writer and director Jordan Galland, has done what countless movies have tried desperately to enact but, largely failed to accomplish. This is to unveil a new perspective on the demonic possession tale. By concerning itself with the aftermath of such an unholy event, the eighty-six minute chronicle almost immediately bypasses the legions of rip-offs of The Exorcist that have arrived since William Friedkin’s masterpiece hit theater screens in 1973. These are the inferior knock-offs which go into the usual vulgarities and blasphemies associated with such entries as if on an emotionally vapid autopilot. What is just as refreshing is that Galland’s well-honed screenplay puts into play the idea that one may actually want to be-possessed.
Such is invigorating. This is given that most pictures of this ilk have their heroes or heroines recovering and never wanting to experience such a nightmarish undergoing again. It is this assortment of fresh, wonderfully underplayed notions, which help the composition come together so well. This is because Galland takes an otherwise tired concept and often runs quickly in the other direction with it. The results are more than welcome.
The Traction Media and Ravenous Films release makes us aware of this immediately. This is established instantly by turning the conventions of its well-executed, and largely seriously toned, opening on its head. Remarkably, this is issued with only a single line of dialogue. It is delivered by Ava (Louisa Krause in an exceptional performance) in a quip, which thankfully are reserved for just this attention-garnering section, as she sees her possessed face in a nearby mirror. This provides the first of several genuinely clever, and well placed, laughs. It also acts as a proficient way of setting the tone for the entire piece.
Galland knows how to properly use and place the guffaws here. They are lightly, quietly peppered throughout. Such is done in a method that doesn’t intrude upon its true, terrifying essence. Instead, it just adds more flavor to the characters as well as the circumstances which they derive from. That, in itself, makes this undoubtedly solid, but not quite masterful, addition recommendation worthy on this basis alone. This is especially true given the obvious, over-exaggerated manner most silver screen affairs pile one joke upon another.
Such is achieved by establishing its effortless intervals of comedy and horror in this prior addressed sequence. What is all the more interesting is that this runs less than two minutes. The commencing credits segment continues this delicate balance beautifully. With vibrantly lettered acknowledgments, and Sean Lennon’s consistently amusing and atmospheric music pounding on the soundtrack, Galland proves he is more than competent at instantly setting a mood and keeping it. This is even more intriguing giving the often clashing genres it utilizes to do so. The rest of the production follows suit. In so doing, it is an easy, seldom dull watch.
Galland tells the account of the title woman’s struggles to get her life together, which she hilariously quips early on that it should only take about a week, after being taken over by a vengeful entity. This satanic brute resides within her for a month’s time. In the early sections we see her joining a Spirit Possessions Anonymous. Following the familiar steps of other support groups, which is another sly and creative venue Galland utilizes herein, she tries to make amends with the people who she may have victimized emotionally or physically while being under spectral influence. We follow our lead as she tries to get her job back. Our intrigue is peaked as she tries to remember what caused the bloodstain she unveils in her apartment.
This all works as entertaining character development. Such is so because we actually care and feel for Ava. We want her attempts to reconcile her life to succeed. This is a far different experience when remembering that most exorcism themed ventures see the protagonist as just a pulpit for cheap scares. So when she inevitably begins to see ghastly sights, and senses the fiend which just left her may be summoning her again, we realize Galland has again been crowned victor. This where most cinematic terrors miscarry. Such is in giving us someone who is credible, as much as the semi-tongue in cheek moments herein allow, that we can actually root for.
He also keeps the pace brisk. Moreover, Galland builds his suspense naturally. This is without relying heavily on it to maintain our interest. Such is especially intriguing given that most of the feature concerns Ava’s plight and not just the ghoul which caused her problems. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t settle into the usual barrage of violent outbursts as most cinemagoers will be expecting. Instead, we are again taken down another wonderfully new avenue.
Galland never abandons the plot for the usual special effects extravaganza such items often become. Yet, when they are rarely used they are proficient and impressive. There is also a much appreciated absence of gore. Such gives the proceedings a polished, even and unique blend of the modern and classic approach.
Gary Breslin and Matthew Turks contributions, though primarily reserved for the predictable but satisfying and far from overblown climax, to this visual aspect is tremendous. It is magnificently light years above the noticeably bad computer generated imagery which dominates, and is sadly expected, within the sub-genre. Galland and Daniel Han’s editing is just as sharp. The cinematography by Adrian Peng Correia is phenomenal. It illuminates the undercurrents of teen angst Galland often issues. These are most visible in the on-screen personality’s actions and dialogue. This is highlighted with a look that calls to mind the best submissions in the aforementioned category. The gleam is bright and luminous. Yet, not so much so that it betrays the depiction’s turns to trepidation. Marci Mudd’s art direction, Maria Hooper’s costume design and Zachary Luke Kislevitz’s set decoration add to this spectacularly. The same can certainly be said for Kristen Alimena, Kaela Dobson, Brenda Bush Johannesen and Joelle Troisi’s make-up.
The cast is just as accomplished. William Sadler as Bernard, Dan Fogler as J.J. Samson and Alysia Reiner as Noelle are all top-notch. They add further dimension to Galland’s already well-scribed representations. Lou Taylor Pucci as Ben, Whitney Able as Jillian and Deborah Rush as Joanna are sensational. Joel de la Fuente is compulsively watchable as Escobar. John Ventimiglia is absorbing as Father Merrino. Annabelle Dexter- Jones as Hazel, Zachary Booth as Roger and Geneva Carr as Darlene fare just as well.
Galland proves that even though fellow fear fanatics may publically discuss their disgust with the overdone tropes of their beloved genre, that it is not so much the category. It is the viewpoint, and the routine associated with it, that they are discouraged over. Zombies, found footage flicks, ghost stories (especially those involving paranormal teams with cameras) and vampire exertions are currently among the equally exhausted. Yet, all these time-tested ingredients need is a simple face-lift. It is necessary for them to evoke an innovative turn to stay alluring to us. They need a novel jolt to get the dead heart of these sub-genres pumping again with life again.
Galland has done this to the arena of demonic possession with endless confidence and gusto. Perhaps in his next moviemaking endeavor he will take on one of these previously stated sub-genres. They sure need it. Ava’s Possessions is more than enough proof that Galland is up to the task.