Jordan Galland’s “Ava’s Possessions” begins where most exorcism movies end—with the expulsion of the demon from its victim, Ava (Louisa Krause) by a priest (John Ventimiglia). Its emphasis is on the aftermath, which is certainly an intriguing twist on the genre.
But what follows presupposes a world in which possession is a fairly common phenomenon rather than a rarity—so common, in fact, that the courts have developed procedures for dealing with those who have done damage while under a demon’s control. No “the devil made me do it” defense—they must either stand trial for the deeds they committed under the influence, or agree to attend meetings of an AA-style survivors’ group called Spirit Possessions Anonymous, led by a hard-as-nails counselor named Tony (Wass Stevens). With the help of her lawyer JJ (Dan Fogler), Ava opts, of course, for the latter, and one of the requirements is that a participant “make amends” to those they have injured.
The deadpan fashion in which Galland treats this recovery business is the strongest part of the picture; the erstwhile possession victims are instructed, for example, to refer to the demons innocuously as “uninvited spirit guests,” and they’re made to perform psychologically helpful actions like painting their demon’s image on a balloon and then exploding it. Sometimes Tony even uses an amulet that can return the demon to its host so that the human can prove his or her mettle by expelling it again with an outsider’s intervention.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, Galland takes the narrative in other directions that turn out to be less engaging. One involves another recovering woman (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) who yearns to have her demon back. The other focuses on Ava’s efforts to remember what she did during the time she was possessed so that she might rectify the wrongs she did. Is she responsible for the injuries her parents (William Sadler and Deborah Rush) suffered? And why are her sister Jillian (Whitney Able) and Jillian’s fiancé (Zachary Booth) acting strangely? Ava can deal peremptorily with her erstwhile co-workers, who seem to be using her experience to their own benefit, but as she tries to locate people she might have wronged during her “illness,” the search—which includes questions about bloodstains and an engraved watch–leads her in directions that don’t have much payoff. And the final revelations, which strain to end the picture on a high note, fall pretty flat.
There are, on the other hand, occasional pleasures to be had. Despite some stiffness, Krause makes a generally sympathetic heroine, and the supporting cast, which also includes Lou Taylor Pucci as a mysterious young man, is for the most part capable; Able and Booth have rough moments, but Sadler and Rush are nimble in exuding mixed messages, and best of all is the redoubtable Carol Kane, who shows up briefly as a seller of spells and potions who might give Noel Coward’s Madame Arcati a run for her money. There’s also a teddy bear that even foul-mouthed Ted might think twice about confronting. The film also boasts a striking look, with the images bathed in colors that suggest the uncertainty of Ava’s state of mind; in purely visual terms production designer James Bolenbaugh and cinematographer Adrian Correia have accomplished a good deal with modest resources.
In the end, however, the picture, while impressive for a low-budget horror comedy, goes off on too many tangents, ending up as an intriguing premise imperfectly realized.