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Ava's Possessions
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by Jay Seaver

"A highly entertaining take on picking up the pieces after being possessed."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Three years ago at this festival, I raved about Jordan Galland's superhero comedy "Alter Egos" in part out of surprise; it worked its alternate Earth scenario better than a lot of films of its sort and built a remarkably solid cast of characters for a sort of spoof movie. With "Ava's Possessions", he does the same thing with the demonic possession genre and turns another high concept into a pretty charming comedy.

It starts where a lot of these movies end, with Ava (Louisa Krause) having "Naphula the Anointed" exorcised from her after being possessed for twenty-eight days. On the one hand, that's great; on the other, her boyfriend has left her, it's not as if Naphula called into work, and he committed a whole bunch of crimes in her body that she'll be accountable for if she doesn't join Spiritual Possession Anonymous, make amends to those she has wronged, and learn how to defend herself from future attacks. It will be tough - group leader Tony (Wass Stevens) is a taskmaster, the new friend she meets there (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) is kind of infatuated with her demon, and maybe it's just them having been there for the exorcism, but her parents (William Sadler & Deborah Rush), sister (Whitney Able), and sister's fiancé (Zachary Booth) seem to be hiding something from her.

Galland has a skill that is perhaps underappreciated in that he's able to build a story out of jokes. Especially early on, most scenes in Ava's Possessions are a sort of gag on how someone who has been through this would have trouble dealing with the fallout and re-inserting herself into society, and they're good jokes, but they also move things forward a bit. Where a lot of comedies that sort of poke at genre staples tend to have jokes that are dismissive in some way, this one uses them to construct both a world that makes a certain level of sense and a mystery within it, while also giving the audience a chance to get to know and like most of its characters. It's a real movie that has fun with its subject matter.

It's got a rather appealing cast, too, led by Louisa Krause, who doesn't necessarily have a lot of jokes of her own - her job is often to give a straight-faced, attempting-to-be-reasonable reaction to the weird way that people around her act, and Galland is stingy with flashbacks of Naphula in Ava's body - but does have a funny way of playing exasperation and confusion toward this month that just doesn't exist for her. She plays Ava as being the sort of trendy, occasionally petulant girl in her twenties who has settled in a Brooklyn loft without seeming abrasive or close to stupid. She anchors the comedy without being totally serious herself.

She's surrounded by a well-above-average ensemble cast to play off, one that's good enough that the viewer may wish that just about everybody had more to do. Take her family, for instance - there doesn't seem to be nearly enough of Deborah Rush or William Sadler in this movie even if they are mostly adapting parental fretting to demonic possession, Whitney Able is solid and Zachary Booth always brings a chuckle as the whitebread boyfriend really anxious to be part of the group. I was kind of rooting for the formerly-possessed character played by Tarik Lowe to be boyfriend material because his part of any scene he's in is always funny, more so that Lou Taylor Pucci, whose role is more plot-centric than funny. Annabelle Dexter-Jones takes the character who misses her spirit and runs with it, turning in one of the most entertaining performances of the group. Dan Fogler, Carol Kane, and John Ventimiglia make their parts entertaining but also make sure they fit into the story.

Eventually, Ava's got a mystery to solve and a demon to overcome, which inevitably pushes the later scenes away from comedy and more toward story. It happens naturally, thankfully, and not in a way that keeps the world from feeling odd but familiar. Galland and his crew wind up putting a nifty-looking movie together throughout - it has a classic sort of New York indie feel to it and never feels like it's constrained to locations for budget reasons, and the effects work that occasionally pops in is slick enough to convince but odd enough to feel appropriately weird.

If I don't love "Ava's Possessions" quite as much as "Alter Egos", it may just be because demonic possession is much less my thing than superheroes; it's still an uncommonly well-built genre comedy. I recommend it highly, whether you're a fan of horror or deadpan takes on weird situations.

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originally posted: 08/02/15 02:53:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  04-Mar-2016 (R)
  DVD: 05-Apr-2016


  04-Mar-2016 (MA)

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