Monday, April 25, 2016

'Ava's Possessions' (2015) Movie Review

Most possession movies end with the exorcism and wrap up with a priest casting a nefarious demon from the body of an innocent, unwilling host. Sprinkle some holy water, say a few chants, cross yourself, and call it a day, job well done. For writer/director Jordan Galland’s sharp, clever horror-comedy, Ava’s Possessions, however, this is the jumping off point.

Ava (Louisa Krause) wakes up to find that an evil spirit possessed her for the last month, driving her around like a damn skin car. The story of Ava’s Possessions is her dealing with the aftermath. She attempts to put her life back together, repair broken relationships (her demon made her fuck a friend’s boyfriend, so neither her nor Ava’s own boyfriend are particularly pleased), she didn’t show up for work for a month, and her demon made her do some things that carry serious potential jail time, possessed or not.

This is an inherently ridiculous situation, but played completely straight as it is, it’s even funnier. More than that, Krause, with a deadpan wit, manages to infuse Ava, and the movie as a whole, with a level of pathos and empathy that gives Ava’s Possessions a depth and weight that it could easily have eschewed in favor of camp and silliness. At its core, this is the story of a young woman doing her best to cope with serious trauma.

Throughout, possession is equated to addiction and recovery. To avoid going to jail, Ava is compelled to join Spirit Possessions Anonymous, a kind of spiritual AA, headed by Tony (Wass Stevens), who plays the part with a harried air of guy dealing with drug users—he knows he’s doing good work, but it’s also exhausting, and this leads to some manic, inspired scenes. Plagued by questions of “why me,” Ava attempts to retrace her steps and piece together the mystery of what and how, like where did that big blood stain on her floor come from?

With a twangy, reverb-dripping surf rock score from Sean Lennon, and a hyper-attuned color palate, Ava’s Possessions is the cinematic equivalent of a hipster indie rock concept album. In both good and bad ways. The quirk and preciousness toe the line—while I think Galland does a solid job of striking a balance, the occasionally forced idiosyncrasies will turn off some viewers as too twee. Still, there’s a core weirdness and a unique sensibility that’s worth checking out. And the strong performance from Krause, as well as peculiar turns from the likes of William Sadler and Carol Kane, is enough to keep the film from bogging down in eccentricities.

The biggest knock on Ava’s Possessions is that there are too many plot threads. Some are left dangling, while others, like a romantic angle with Ben (Lou Pucci Taylor, Evil Dead), never fully develop in the first place. When they all need to come together at the climax, the pieces don’t fit flatly together, and the conclusion winds up something of a head-scratcher. Not every little thing needs to be explained, but there are answers the film needs to reveal that it doesn’t, and the result is a vague incomplete feeling as the credits roll.

Though not perfect, Ava’s Possessions is a unique film and worth a look for horror fans. Anchored by Louisa Krause’s performance, I can’t help but hope we see a lot more from her in the next few years. At it’s best, it’s a clever twist on the possession narrative, and illustrates that not every exorcism movie has to follow the same arc. [Grade: B]

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