Ava’s Possessions is a fun film that runs with a clever premise: after the possession’s over, how do you put your life back together? When you’ve spent a month screaming, crying, vomiting, punching, and swearing, what happens when you return to reality?
Our titular heroine has just recovered from a month-long bout of possession, exorcised by a well-meaning priest. Upon awakening, she discovers she’s being charged for assault, indecent exposure, and just generally being “a bloody maniac running through the streets hurting people”. Faced with a choice between jail time, group home therapy, and attending an AA-like recovery program called “Spirit Possession Anonymous”, Ava chooses recovery. Quite literally, Ava has to face her own demons, and determine exactly what happened while she was under a spirit’s spell.
This isn’t a film to turn to if you’re looking for a creepy exorcism thriller, but it is a great starting point if, like me, you’re sick of the horror genre steadfastly hitting the same old beats. Spirit Possession Anonymous is a hilariously earnest organization that has its members pop balloons with their demons’ faces on them, re-enact their possessions as self-help exercises, do homework and make amends with families. “We don’t use the d-word here”, says Ava’s counsellor angrily when she describes her demon. Ava has waking dreams of her own demon, and its only through figuring out why she was a target for one that she can truly be rid of it.
Exorcism films often play out in similar ways, with the same religious allegories acting as metaphors for spiritual paranoia and anxiety, but Ava’s Possessions explores a different kind of anxiety – that of being a modern woman who had all her shit figured out, only for it to come crashing down spectacularly.
It’s a stylish little film, soaked in neon a la Drive, with a pulsing soundtrack by Sean Lennon. It’s a bit too cool for school sometimes, relying on its aesthetic and a hipster sensibility that rests on quirk like a supernatural Juno. It’s saved, though, by its attempts to lampoon itself.
Ava’s Possessions is even better at skewering boho Brooklyn lifestyles than it is at exorcist films (there’s a reverence there as well as good-natured criticism). At times it feels like a paranormal version of Girls, complete with Jemima Kirke – bored 20somethings with artfully tousled hair lounging around mismatched couches wearing thrift store finds, drinking and casually telling Ava that she was such a slutty bitch when she was possessed, she got herself uninvited to a birthday party. It’s pretty funny – and eerily close to how society judges non-possessed female behaviour.
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 15. For more coverage of the festival click here.