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Horror comedies and demon possession movies are both having a moment, but Ava’s Possessions is the first film I’ve heard of that combines these genres. Director Jordan Galland’s 2015 indie is an amusing genre mashup, but it also uses possession and exorcism as metaphors for mental illness and addiction, presenting horror not as a one-time event but as an ongoing challenge.
Ava (Louisa Krause) has just been exorcised of the demon Naphula, who possessed her for nearly a month. Rather than serving jail time or being institutionalized, Ava agrees to start attending Spirit Possession Anonymous meetings to learn how to recognize the warning signs of impending possession and avoid it in the future; as the group leader Tony (Wass Stevens) explains, being possessed once makes you ten times more likely to be possessed again. Ava befriends fellow possession recoverer Hazel (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) and starts to piece together the time she lost while under Naphula’s control in an effort to find everyone she hurt and start making amends. Her investigation leads her to a mysterious art dealer (Lou Taylor Pucci) and uncovers secrets about her family that she was perhaps better off not knowing.
For an 89-minute movie, Ava’s Possessions does not skimp on story, sometimes to its detriment. What makes the film so charming is its grasp on the ordinary; the first act, which Ava spends cleaning up her wrecked apartment and trying to make amends with her estranged friends and boyfriend, is a dryly comedic gem. The scenes at Spirit Possession Anonymous are similarly funny and thought-provoking, with different characters in various stages of the recovery process; Hazel is smitten with her demon and chatters about him to Ava like a starstruck fan describing a pop star. Galland sticks to a color palette of neon blue, yellow, and pink, giving the film a sense of cohesion even when the myriad plot threads start to go off the rails near the end of Act Two. The ending doesn’t quite come together, but getting there is so enjoyable it almost doesn’t matter. Ava’s possession will never truly leave her, but she learns to live with it and manage it with help from her sponsor and some unexpected insight from her family.
For a horror comedy with a fairly light touch, Ava’s Possessions is a surprisingly poignant, honest take on addiction and mental illness, taking the metaphor of being “not yourself” and making it literal. The story becomes a bit scattered but the tone feels right: gently comedic with a touch of self-loathing. Ava is all of us when we learn to make friends with our dark side instead of running from it.
Ashley Wells watches too many movies and welcomes recommendations for more. Leave her one here or on Twitter: @ashleybwells. Spoiler alert: she has already seen Troll 2.