Exorcism films often get caught up in the religious act of releasing pure souls from Satan’s burning grasp, but what happens after all the action ends? What happens when the possession lets go, the priest goes home, and the victim is left to piece back together their life? That’s the story that filmmaker Jordan Galland dares to tell in Ava’s Possessions, as he examines his title character’s existence AFTER a demonic inhabitant leaves her with nothing but broken relationships and one massive blackout. Think of it as The Hanover with a paranormal twist. Like Ava woke up after a massive party, and she has to figure out what shenanigans she got into while “under the influence.” Yeah, that’s the best comparison. The Hangover, but with a lot more demons and Satanism.
Louisa Krause plays the titular Ava, a young girl who lost a month of her life to a nasty bout of demonic possession. With a laundry list of offenses against her, Ava agrees to attend funded meetings called Spirit Possession Anonymous (like AA for exorcism survivors) in an effort to ensure she keeps up with a proper treatment cycle. Tracing back her steps and looking for clues, Ava starts to atone for the sins of her evil state, but a mystery starts to unravel when a random wrist watch and hidden blood stains are discovered in her apartment. To make matters worse, Ava starts to have recurring visions of her demonic possessor that suggest she may not be completely healed. Can Ava solve her mysteries before the demon overtakes her again?
Set among New York City’s seedier neighborhoods, Ava’s Possessions is a bit like a spooky episode of Girls without the overly-kitschy dialogue. Galland’s style resembles a hipster horror story thanks to the gaudy aesthetics and fake-classy lifestyle Ava leads with her colorful friends, almost like the film is two steps away from hitting on a Juno-esque vibe. The refreshing part is that none of the Big Apple’s quirkiness drowns out the possession story Galland crafts in glitzy, neon lights, and he also makes sure that horror fans have a few fun references to chuckle at (The Exorcist referencing, being charged with two counts of possession). Galland knows how to have fun with the topic, like when Ava’s friend remarks about her being a “mega bitch and a slut” in her possessed state. Like, OMG, how inconsiderate!
Then again, Ava’s Possession is a bit on the goofy side, and not all of the government-funded dramadey comes off as well as it should. Ava is forced to attend a program that’s called Spirit Possession Anonymous (seriously), where she meets a whole group of suffering patients just like herself. They’re forced to complete these self-help exercises, like popping balloons with their demon’s face and whacking demon effigies to show personal strength, but the concept provides more entertainment than its inherently hammy execution. The overall message of Galland’s story shines through given the obvious motif, as everyone has to “defeat their demon” before being pronounced completely cured, but the self-help nature sometimes softens more lively scenes of demonic possession and dark, abrasive comedy.
Despite Ava’s more mundane exorcism vessel, Louisa Krause provides a charming lead victim who’s more like a paranormal detective with a creepy, malicious helper. Krause only flashes a few glimpses of her possessed form, but because we become comfortable with her more restrained, human body, her sparse wicked streaks are like a jolt of genre energy the film so desperately needs. I wouldn’t call Ava’s Possessions a straight horror film, but Galland’s mutated victims and scattered bits of bloody gore heighten Krause’s intensity when she needs it most. Few characters are able to emit both a wounded vulnerability and strong, independent will, but Krause makes the equation work without relying on more veteran supporting actors like Dan Fogler, Lou Taylor Pucci, and William Sadler.
There are more subtle themes driving Ava’s Possessions, like the notion that possessions also represent twisted relationships (Annabelle Dexter-Jones’ spunky character explains it well), but more importantly, it’s a unique film about beating your demons despite the haziness that may surround you. Galland elevates his film by going about exorcisms in a fresh light, whether he’s filming the religious ritual from Ava’s point-of-view or addressing how survivors cope, and his ambitious efforts pay off in the realm of cinematic individuality. It’s not without slow sections and scenes that could use some tighter performances, but Ava’s Possession is a favorable genre watch that offers more than cussing demons and heroic priests who save the day.
Ava's Possessions may not be a thing of nightmares, but Galland's take on post-exorcism lifestyles is fun and inviting, in a quirky-satanic-hangover kind of way.
Ava's Possessions Review [SXSW 2015]