Horror is one of the few genres that is constantly being revolutionized, while still satisfying our nostalgic cravings. Countless filmmakers around the world have taken a given sub-genre's formula, and applied a smart twist in order to make their contribution unique. While the results of the final project often varies in these independent features, at least there's a clear attempt to provide something new to audiences who are irritated with the endless sequels, prequels, and remakes. Writer/director Jordan Galland is one of those filmmakers who has a clear understanding of genre tricks, and has the ability to manipulate the formula in unexpected ways. Making its World Premiere at SXSW Film Festival 2015, Ava's Possessions has a brilliant concept, although it isn't quite able to maintain its level of creativity throughout the picture.
Ava (Louisa Krause) is your typical young woman, except she has been possessed by a terrifying demon. After causing a great amount of destruction within her life, she awakens with absolutely no memory of what occurred during the possession. She's forced to enroll in a Spirit Possessions Anonymous support group in order to learn how to block this evil from coming back. Ava attempts to cope with what has happened, as she struggles to reconnect with her friends and get her job back.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Ava's Possessions is the story that Galland decides to tell. Most of these possession flicks end with the lead getting rid of the demon that haunts him or (usually her), but this one starts after the exorcism has already taken place. These films rarely explore what happens to these individuals after they have been possessed. Do they suffer from the consequences of the actions committed by the demon? In Galland's story, society generally believe that demons exist, but people are still responsible for their actions. This leads to a great deal of stereotypes and prejudices that society places on Ava and those she meets at the support group. Galland has done an excellent job creating a world that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, but the stakes feel very real. The audience comes to genuinely care for the character of Ava, although the same can't entirely be said about the supporting roles. There's a great amount of potential in her fellow support group members, although they are heavily underutilized.
While Ava's struggle to overcome the demon's power is the main focus, there are other sub-plots taking place. She's suspicious of a large blood stain underneath her living room carpet and is being romantically pursued by a man named Ben (Lou Taylor Pucci). The attempt to add mysterious elements are underwhelming. It feels as if the film is trying to tackle too many things at once, rather than holding focus on the more interesting aspects of the plot. The great mystery that it provides is fairly "run-of-the-mill," which can be predicted from rather early in the running time. It makes sense for Ava to want a relationship in order to return back to normalcy, but it feels like an afterthought. It simply comes across as a way to move the plot forward, and not a character element. There is a clear theme of overcoming one's literal and figurative demons, although it feels a bit underutilized with the use of such unfitting sub-plots that hardly add any value to any of the genre elements that are at work here.
Ava's Possessions uses many of the elements that we recognize from horror films, but it never necessarily has the intention of scaring the audience. Galland plays with the genre more than he actually embraces it, but it's more of a comedy anyways. The primary joke is that of the support group, which is actually quite funny. However, the film never quite manages to move past that. Galland crafted a great gag, but rather than using that as a point from which to move from, it feels as if he's jogging in place. While effective, it's still just one joke that ultimately gets stale over the course of 89 minutes. There are attempts made within the situations that Ava finds herself in, but they simply aren't very funny. The attempts made to date romantically could have made for some excellent jokes, although it's hardly pursued. Ultimately, it simply doesn't provide the laugh-out-loud humor that it tries to convey.
The screenplay has its share of hits and misses, although Galland's direction is more successful. Utilizing an incredibly vibrant color palette, it has a throwback feel, while still feeling modern. Cinematographer Adrian Correia delivers impressive work by bringing audiences an atmosphere that entirely fits the film's tone. Canted angles and other illusions place us in the disorienting world of the lead character. Ava's Possessions sports a score that completes the overall tone. Galland shows some true promise as a director, and will surely be one to watch in his future endeavors.
Writer/director Jordan Galland has crafted a fascinating central concept that successfully contributes something new to the horror genre. However, it tries to take a comedic route that isn't entirely successful. By adding a few weak sub-plots, the narrative is a bit all over the place. With some more focus, this could have been a real game-changer. The Spirit Possessions Anonymous is one of the picture's greatest strengths, although it's extremely underutilized. Rather, the film takes on a mysterious tone that feels out of place. Fortunately, Galland has delivered a brilliant visual design that truly places the audience within the mind of Ava. Ava's Possessions is an enjoyable "genre bender," although it never comes close to reaching its potential. Rent it.
Ava's Possessions played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 13th, March 16th, and March 18th.