Studio: Entertainment One
Director: Jordan Galland
Writer: Jordan Galland
Producer: Maren Olson, Carlos Velazquez, Jordan Galland, Douglas Weiser
Stars: Louisa Krause, Whitney Able, Deborah Rush, William Sadler, Zachary Booth, Wass Stevens, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, John Ventimiglia, Jemima Kirke, Stella Schnabel, Dan Fogler, Carol Kane, Lou Taylor Pucci
After an exorcism expels her demon, a young woman joins an odd support group to piece together the mystery of what happened during her possession.
Spirit Possession Anonymous is not your typical twelve-step recovery program. Then again, Ava’s peculiar situation requires something beyond what an average support group might have to offer as far as overcoming inner demons is concerned.
For 28 days, Ava vomited pea soup and spouted Latin-laced curses when she wasn’t busy seducing a gal pal’s boyfriend or bashing a bystander’s head into an ATM. She’s better now, thanks to a priestly exorcism, but the blood on her floor, unidentified watch in her couch cushions, and hushed whispers from shifty-eyed family members hint that Ava’s memory gap hides a darker secret. With a little help from the similarly-afflicted weirdos in the folding chair circle at S.P.A., Ava is about to embark on a dreamlike journey of the Big Apple’s slightly stranger side, searching for the revelation of what really happened when an uninvited entity took her body for a joyride.
With a casual confidence towards the surreal streak in its style, “Ava’s Possessions” doesn’t blend genre conventions so much as it defies them, refusing to be easily classified as comedy, thriller, drama, or some measurable amalgam of all three. The film rings bells including humor, heart, and horror, but only in unique tones providing cast and crew with permission to create their own random realm of quirky characters and mildly mind-melting atmosphere. This is a sideways space where demonic possession is commonplace in an otherwise recognizable reality, yet actors refrain from mugging for the camera to overemphasize laughs or to make any suggestions about “Ava’s Possessions” being a satirical sendup or even serious suspense. More important on the movie’s main menu is delivering a fantastic feast of sumptuous sight and sound.
Writer/director Jordan Galland weaves a weird mood that is subdued without being lethargic, pulsating without being peppy, and never in danger of overextending more effort than necessary to establish a distinct sense of cinematic storytelling. Imagine shades of Wes Anderson with Dario Argento’s flair for visuals dunked deep in a thick bath of party gels.
Making those giallo-soaked colors drip is sharp production design evoking a mix of “Mad Men” chic with Adrian Correia’s even sharper cinematography of consistently canted angles keeping the camera as off-kilter as Ava’s world. Sean Lennon’s memorably mesmeric musical score completes the illusion of a slow jazz step being the only appropriate beat for these martini-sipping hepcats in brick-walled lofts adorned with throwback tube televisions and rabbit ear antennas.
The deliberate drone in the rhythm and steadily downbeat drollness inherent in the movie’s DNA come with the consequence of being too mellow a taste for the hungry palates of hardcore horror or humor hounds. “Ava’s Possessions” runs brief at just shy of 90 minutes, yet it only unfolds for those in tune to its unusual frequency, with a handful of hangups holding the story on simmer instead of on sizzle.
“Ava’s Possessions” brims with recognizable talent, although a number of names are underused in reduced roles. Jemima Kirke of HBO’s “Girls” appears in only one scene. John Ventimiglia of “The Sopranos” in just two. Ditto Carol Kane. William Sadler has slightly more screen time as Ava’s father, though anyone classifying his or any of the aforementioned appearances as cameos would have little trouble making a strong case for use of the term.
Several subplots, like Ava’s rapid romance with Lou Taylor Pucci or the mysterious mark on a certain person’s neck, are left in the lurch when the film speeds conveniently to a quick conclusion. Having been previously paced so patiently, the “explain everything” exposition dump ending crashes forth suddenly enough to trigger an airbag, potentially bringing bewilderment to anyone anticipating a tightly-tied ribbon as an end credit accompaniment.
For all its choppiness as a smoothly-conceived narrative or a tightly-executed mystery, “Ava’s Possessions” supersedes problems of pacing through delightfully strange ambiance and a terrifically understated lead performance by Louisa Krause as Ava. Funny without being straightly comic and nightmarish without being strictly frightening, “Ava’s Possessions” nevertheless brands its black magic mark using curious characters, vibrant visuals, and smartly stylish storytelling.
Review Score: 75