Life was not bad for Ava Dopkins; from a comfortable family, she has an uptown studio apartment, an A&R job at a small music label, and she and her girlfriends go drinking and clubbing. That was, until Ava was possessed by the “ancient, malicious entity” known as Naphula the Anointed, a feline demon described to her as an “entitled, arrogant rich kid who commands thirty six legions of Hell.”
Awaking after the trauma of the exorcism with Father Merrino (The Sopranos’ John Ventimiglia) by her side, she has only fragmentary memories of what happened. Her family are well meaning but the situation is awkward: “Are you seriously blaming me for getting possessed?” she asks her highly strung mother Joanna (Orange Is the New Black’s Deborah Rush), and her former friends are cautious around her. “You sort of acted like a megabitch when you were possessed,” they tell her. “And a slut.”
Following her rampage, the conditions imposed on her by the court require her to attend meetings at the local Spirit Possession Anonymous support group, preferable to the other options of prison or a facility. Group leader Tony (House of Cards‘ Wass Stevens) cuts Ava no slack and expects her to commit wholly to the programme, but even as she tries to puts her life back together the pieces don’t quite fit; in her apartment she finds a gentleman’s wristwatch down the back of the sofa, and suspicious bloodstains under the rug…
Following Alter Egos and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, much of the third feature from writer/director Jordan Galland is fashioned to reflect the absurdity of Ava’s waking nightmare and Louisa Krause is excellent in the lead, conveying the confusion of a formerly independent woman derailed by forces beyond her control or comprehension.
Rush, Stevens and genre favourite William Sadler as Ava’s father Bernard are all reliable and experienced actors, but special mention goes to the scene stealing Annabelle Dexter-Jones as Hazel, a fellow attendee of the SPA who would rather relapse than rid herself of Abaddon the Annihilator.
Unfortunately the film is badly let down by the hollow performances of Monsters‘ Whitney Able and Evil Dead‘s Lou Taylor Pucci who have seemingly walked on set by accident, the crucial roles of by Ava’s sister Jillian and Ben, the over-friendly gallery owner who assists in the investigation resembling cold readings of a previously unseen script.
Showcasing a strong eighties vibe in structure and execution, the cool neon and hot synth of Miami Vice relocated to the cold concrete of New York, with few digital effects other than the morphing of the possessed characters most of the atmosphere is instead created by lighting, costume, makeup and the presence of some sinister props.
Despite a disappointing resolution which feels artificial and tacked on rather than organically arrived at, the revelations unfolding with little sense or conviction, Ava’s Possessions remains more fun and more coherent than any number of paranormal activities and as an examination of post-exorcism existence is undeniably a less wretched experience than John Boorman’s The Heretic.