Movies · Reviews

SXSW 2015: Ava’s Possessions Lacks Spirit

By  · Published on March 14th, 2015

Off Hollywood Pictures

Off Hollywood Pictures

We first meet Ava (Louisa Krause) as her time possessed is coming to an end. Surrounded by family, a priest finishes up the exorcism and greets the newly freed young woman, but her time with the supernatural is only the beginning of her troubles. She committed numerous crimes while under demonic control – she stole kisses, damaged property and even slashed a throat or two – and now she has to pay for her misdeeds.

The court understands that she was possessed and has no memory of her actions, so in lieu of jail time Ava agrees to attend Spirit Possession Anonymous until she’s fully cured. The group is funded by the U.S. government in partnership with the Catholic Church and run by a man named Tony (Wass Stevens), and with his guidance she’ll need to face her victims and prove she’s strong enough to resist a repeat visit from her particular demon (aka Naphula the Anointed).

The initial setup of Jordan Galland’s pseudo horror/comedy Ava’s Possessions works both as purely comedic and as metaphor for all manner of addictions. This is a world where possessions are not uncommon, where you can walk into a corner store and buy spells and incantations from the shopkeeper (Carol Kane) and where the trust of your friends and family can be regained through a promise to stop puking up pea soup. It’s ripe with potential, but unfortunately Galland lets far too much of it rot before our eyes.

It’s clear early on that this is a low-key affair, but while low budget doesn’t have to mean low energy that’s exactly what we get here. There’s not a single moment of real urgency to be felt (aside from the exorcism that plays beneath the opening credits) even as violence erupts, revelations are made and matters of life and death are discussed. It’s all just so flat, and while some of that is attributed to the performances the fault ultimately sits with the direction and script. We know Naphula wants back in and see glimpses of him pounding his drum, but we’re never left feeling like Ava’s in any real danger.

The other big issue afflicting the film is the script’s compulsion to move away from the darkly fun world-building where possessions are an everyday occurrence and instead attempt to explore what should have been nothing more than a subplot. Naphula’s desire to re-enter Ava should have been enough to create suspense, and the a world where the supernatural is the accepted norm is loaded with material ready for comedic exploration, but the script instead focuses on the “mystery” of what triggered Ava’s possession. That element doesn’t have the dramatic weight to justify the time it’s given here, especially while other areas of interest, excitement and laughs are left untapped.

It’s always a shame when a film doesn’t meet its potential, but it’s especially unfortunate here as the cast is so promising. Krause mesmerized with her vibrant and dynamic title turn in 2012’s King Kelly, but here she’s nearly as sedate as the film. We get it, possessions are a part of everyday life here, but the presence of spirits is no reason to lack spirited performances. Similarly underused are the wonderful William Sadler and Whitney Able as Ava’s parents, Dan Fogler as the family attorney and Jemima Kirke as one of Ava’s ex-friends. The two exceptions are Kane’s spunky turn as the witchy shopkeeper and Annabelle Dexter-Jones’ punchy performance as the black sheep of the support group.

Ava’s Possessions isn’t a bad film by any stretch, but it’s frustrating to watch it plod along while an abundance of promise sits just outside of the frame.

The Upside: Fun and interesting idea; great cast; Ava’s collection of bra-baring shirts

The Downside: Completely lacking in energy; plot moves away from initial idea; never commits to genre or comedy

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.