AVA’S POSSESSIONS Review | SXSW 2015

     March 15, 2015

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Tired of possession and exorcism movies? You need to give Ava’s Possessions a chance. Not only does it put a completely new spin on the concept, but it’s also a downright brilliant idea that could sustain far more than 89 minutes of screen time.

Louisa Krause leads as the title character, Ava. The film begins during the tail end of her exorcism. Father Merrino (John Ventimiglia) extracts the demon and Ava takes controls of her body again, but she can’t recall a single thing that happened since the start of her possession – and a lot of things happened. Now she’s being charged with a variety of crimes including property damage, assault, indecent exposure and more. Even though none of it was really her fault, the only way she can get out of serving jail time is by participating in Spirit Possessions Anonymous, a group treatment program designed to help the formerly possessed prevent it from happening again.

As someone who’s seen quite a few possession movies recently, Ava’s Possessions is wildly refreshing. In fact, I actually think I might be able to enjoy upcoming possession movies more now that Ava’s has opened the door to considering what happens to a person post-exorcism. In fact, I’m surprised I’ve never considered the idea much before. The first act of the film is absolutely brimming with hilarious and oddly practical concerns regarding Ava’s situation. Shortly after coming to, she asks her family if anyone bothered to call out sick from work for her. Her friends are pissed because while possessed, she acted like a “mega b*tch” and “slut.” She also kicked the crap out of a guy at an ATM and a security camera caught the whole thing. Of course she’s going to be liable for things like this.

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The idea of AA for the post-possessed is another brilliant novelty in the film. This is where Wass Stevens steps in as Tony, the head of Spirit Possessions Anonymous. He’s an all-business kind of guy who’s deeply dedicated to helping his group members free themselves from their demons once and for all. Again, this part of the film is packed with clever concepts that are fun to consider. There’s an SPA handbook that’s a bit reminiscent of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” in Beetlejuice, members are instructed to not use the “D word” and they also all have very different relationships with their “uninvited spiritual guest.” Whereas Ava is eager to get rid of her rather malicious evil entity, another group member named Hazel (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) has basically fallen in love with hers.

I could have spent hours exploring SPA, the cases Tony is dealing with and how having been possessed changes a person’s everyday life, but eventually, the film shifts its focus to a mystery of sorts and that’s where Ava’s Possessions loses a little momentum. The SPA program requires members to talk to family, friends and strangers that they might have encountered while possessed so that they can figure out exactly what happened. It works well at the beginning, but the more Ava learns and the deeper she get into this mystery, the more convoluted things become. It does take away from the fun of the film a bit and the resolution isn’t all that satisfying either.

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Image via SXSW

However, Ava’s Possessions does manage to get away with it thanks to the appealing core concept, Krause’s charm and writer-director Jordan Galland’s firm handle on the material. Minus that flimsy ending, Galland’s got every element of this film right on point. Alter Egos was a solid second feature, but it’s pretty evident that Galland is taking a major step forward with this one. He put together a strong ensemble, his shots are all well-composed, there are some stellar lighting choices that give the film a really unique flare and the music he got from Sean Lennon is spot on. Between Ava’s Possessions and Alter Egos, it’s pretty clear that Galland is a skilled world builder. He takes these very familiar big screen scenarios, puts his own smart spin on them and then he winds up with these especially appealing and thoughtful concepts that are a blast to consider well beyond the feature. I know I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a Spirit Possessions Anonymous TV show.

Grade: B+

Click here for all of our SXSW 2015 coverage or browse the links below to check out my other reviews:

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Image via Indiewire

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