Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #597
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 26, 2015
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Satire
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Jordan Galland
Producers: Jordan Galland, Maren Olson, Carlos Velazquez, Douglas Weiser
Screenplay: Jordan Galland
Special Effects: Joelle Troisi, Kaela Dobson
Cinematography: Adrian Peng Correia
Score: Sean Lennon
Editing: Jordan Galland, Daniel Hahn
Studios: ODD NY, Off Hollywood Pictures, Ravenous Films, Traction Media
Distributors: Orion Pictures, Momentum Pictures, Netflix
Stars: Louisa Krause, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Wass Stevens, Whitney Able, Lou Taylor Pucci, Carol Kane, William Sadler, Alysia Reiner, Dan Fogler, Joel de la Fuente, John Ventimiglia, Deborah Rush, Zachary Booth, Geneva Carr, Jemima Kirke, Olivia Anton
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Sean Lennon “Lullaby For A Murder”
 Sean Lennon “Ava’s Awake”
 Sean Lennon “Different Drum”
 Sean Lennon “Blame Beelzabub”
I’d imagine it must suck like a frisky aardvark to be possessed by an evil spirit. Granted, the ability to walk like a spider might be novel for a while and being able to rotate your head a full 360 on command isn’t to be sniffed at, but there are only so many times you can projectile vomit pea soup before those teeth get stained and stabbing yourself repeatedly in the lady parts with a crucifix can’t be good for your urinary function either. Then, of course, we have the fact that ownership of your soul is surrendered and, if possession really is 9/10 of the law, then that leaves precious little under your jurisdiction. Thank the heavens and all that is blessed then for good old-fashioned exorcism, a sure-fire(ish) way of relinquishing any sinfulness and returning to factory settings. A few splashes of holy water and passage or two from the good book and sweet little Regan MacNeil could get back to being an obnoxious teenager again. I’m sure her long-suffering mother would offer up an amen to that.
Since William Friedkin assaulted the living shit out of our senses with The Exorcist back in 1973, there have been many films that have concentrated on the theme of demonic possession and none have even come close to equaling their illustrious front-runner for shock and awe. The chief problem is that there is scant room for manoeuvre and audiences have long since become desensitized to such tiresome custody battles. That hasn’t stopped filmmakers from getting in on the act and the likes of Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside and Mikael Håfström’s The Rite among others have all managed to claim their slice of this lucrative pie. However, the whole exorcism deal appears to have pretty much run its course at this point and I, for one, feel more than content letting this particular sleeping dog lie.
So when Jordan Galland’s third full-length feature Ava’s Possessions appeared on my Netflix radar, claiming to offer a completely unique spin on the subject matter, it had its work cut out to convince me otherwise. That said, the idea that it focuses not on the possession itself but instead on the aftermath certainly piqued my interest and I’m thrilled to report that Galland’s neo-noir oddity turned out to be something of a minor classic. It’s quirky without ever coming across as kooky, whimsical without ever becoming farcical, and defies genre conventions as opposed to bowing down to them. Moreover, his film somehow manages to present a plausible enough reality even though it has no right to be considered so. I’ve been to support groups in my time but have never come across a twelve-step recovery program quite like Spirit Possession Anonymous. Yet in the world that he creates, it’s actually fair game, and that is credit to a job very well done indeed.
Our babe in the woods is the titular Ava (Louisa Krause), a dazed and confused twentysomething Brooklynite who has just reawakened after being subjected to an exorcism having spent the last month of her life under the dominion of an ancient demon named Naphula. Whilst initially dismissive, it isn’t long before Ava realizes the extent to which this wicked warlock ran amok using her as its vessel for mischief. There is only so much you can blame on menstrual cramps and the 28-day rampage she has embarked on may be a stretch too far, resulting in her being fired from her job, dumped by her boyfriend, shunned by her besties, and staring down the barrel of jail time. Thank the good lord for family then although, while parents Bernard and Joanna (William Sadler and Deborah Rush), sister Jillian (Whitney Able), and her fiancé Roger (Zachary Booth) appear to have her best interests at heart, Ava can’t help but feel that there’s something they’re not telling her.
The only apparent way that she can avoid incarceration is by agreeing to attend a rehabilitation program for the recently exorcised, Spirit Possession Anonymous, led by the straight-talking Tony (Wass Stevens) and the news there is far from encouraging. You see, given that she has already played host to the demon, Ava is now vulnerable to repossession and her ordeal may well be far from over. With precious little enlightenment coming from her cagey nearest and dearest, she decides to take matters into her own hands and begin snooping around for clues on her lonesome. Her quest soon leads her to a downtown botánica where she meets offbeat proprietor Talia (Carol Kane) and an art gallery where she runs into Ben (Lou Taylor Pucci) whose intentions appear honorable. However, her best attempts to piece things together suggest that the worst is yet to come and all the while Naphula is preparing to bang its drum and assume control once more.
The first thing that struck me about Ava’s Possessions is just how sumptuous it looks and sounds. Adrian Peng Correia’s cinematography is superb throughout and the screen is bathed in all manner of neon hues and colorful cinematic candies. Meanwhile, Sean Lennon’s score compliments the surreal visual style hand in glove and assists no end in immersing us into Ava’s story. Here is a movie that possesses a tone quite unlike any other and a true breath of fresh air amidst the leagues of unremarkable and colorless efforts pouring onto the marketplace currently. Galland’s screenplay is smart and digs deep enough into the psyche of its protagonist to keep the audience guessing and, more critically, caring alongside her. However, the true jewel in the crown here is our beleaguered leading lady.
Krause’s performance as Ava is the kind that stars are fashioned from, and her voyage of discovery, documented brilliantly through each quizzical look or light bulb moment as she blunders from one precarious scenario to the next. She is ably supported too by an excellent ensemble cast, all of whom appear to understand their brief, and some wonderful scene stealing cameos from the likes of Dan Folger, old-timer Kane and the always reliable Pucci. If I had one gripe then it would be the character of Ben as he is introduced as her loyal protector and potential love interest but Galland never sees fit to provide their storyline sufficient closure, making him feel a little inconsequential when he’s been anything but until that point. Slightly rushed conclusion aside however, it’s pretty much plain sailing all the way.
Nothing pleases me more than a film that takes a well-trodden trope such as demonic possession and supplies its own exclusive take on it. Ava’s Possessions does precisely that, offering a satirical look at one woman’s recuperation process from a deeply traumatic experience and highlighting the importance of confronting the past and finding the path towards spiritual cleansing. From the polychromatic visuals which call to mind the likes of the great Dario Argento, to the pitch-perfect turn from its lead, and its massively appealing core concept, Galland’s film is a drum beat away from being considered a classic and a wildly refreshing slice of pulp fiction unlike any other. One thing’s for sure, after spending 89 minutes with the enigmatic Ava, I’ll be first in line for repossession.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While there’s a dash of the deep red coulis on exhibit, it is never the focus and Ava’s Possessions would need a prequel to get truly down and dirty as it’s all about after the fact here and all the bloody better for it.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™