It looks like Bushwick-based supernatural comedies are officially a thing: first there was last year’s vampire flick Summer of Blood and now, showing at SXSW this week, there’s newcomer Ava’s Possessions, about a young woman picking up the pieces of a demonic possession that drove her to attack a bunch of people.
Director Jordan Galland has already done a vampire comedy (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead), so it makes sense that he’d move on to demons. And if you’re doing demons, you’re going to have to shoot a scene in everyone’s favorite bookstore, Catland.
But aside from an initial exorcism scene, there’s isn’t much horror here. “I just wanted to get inside the head of somebody who’s recovering and sort of alienated from her friends,” Galland told the audience after a Friday the 13th screening at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. “I wanted to tell that story, not the bloody story or the possessed story.”
And so we have an early scene in which Stella Schnabel (Julian Schnabel’s daughter) and Jemima Kirke (Jessa from Girls) inform their friend Ava that “you sort of acted like a mega bitch when you were possessed.” If that line sounds like something out of Heathers, then you know which frequency this movie is tuned to.
But it’s not just the friend whose boyfriend she unwittingly slept with that Ava has to make amends with. She also has to deal with her mother, played by Deborah Rush, who basically reprises the undermining, unsympathetic mom she played in Strangers With Candy. (To be fair, you’d probably be sour too if your daughter poked your eye out while possessed by Naphula the Anointed, the “entitled arrogant rich kid” of demons).
Galland said he wanted Ava to “treat the demon like a bad boyfriend that she can’t get away from – she’s supposed to break up with him but she likes it even though it’s bad for her.”
Eventually, she realizes she needs to dump her demon, if only to avoid jail time. So she goes to a recovery group led by a priest played, absurdly enough, by Wass Stevens, the notorious nightclub doorman who also had a role in House of Cards. (He isn’t the only nightlife character in the cast: Nur Khan of Rose Bar and Electric Room also makes a cameo). At Spirit Possessions Anonymous, she befriends a bad girl played by designer, model and all-around “it” girl Annabelle Dexter-Jones, whose character relishes repossession a little bit more than Ava does.
Curiously, Dexter-Jones, the daughter of Mick Jones of Foreigner, isn’t the only celebrity spawn involved in the film. We already mentioned Schnabel and Kirke, who’s the daughter of Bad Company’s drummer; Sean Lennon contributed original music.
The humor in Ava’s Possessions isn’t nearly as over-the-top as Summer of Blood: there’s an early chuckle when Ava’s lawyer tells her she’s being charged with “possession” (as in, narcotics), and another when her mother tells her she isn’t supposed to be drinking. “Haven’t you heard,” deadpans Ava. “I can handle my spirits.” This doesn’t quite take off as a comedy, and the acting isn’t quite, well, “spirited” enough to make for a riveting drama.
But the film has its pleasures: Carol Kane, currently killing it as the landlord in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, plays the occultist Ava visits in the scene that was filmed at Catland. And there are some intriguing mysteries: how did a married man’s watch end up in Ava’s apartment, and why is there a blood stain under her rug? Why is her mom wearing an eyepatch? And what did she do that pissed off a pimp so much?
Are you getting intrigued? That’s the spirit!
“Ava’s Possessions” screens March 16, 6:45pm at Alamo Lamar and March 18, 11:45pm at Stateside Theatre