Demonic possessions are a well-trod trope in horror movies, but most of them end with the exorcism. Jordan Galland’s sharp satire Ava’s Possessions, on the other hand, follows the titular heroine through her demonic recuperation process, resulting in an irreverent, ingenious look at what it means to recover.
Ava’s Possessions picks up post-exorcism, as Brooklynite Ava (Martha Marcy May Marlene star Louisa Krause) wakes up with no memory of her 28-day possession. She’s left trying to put her life back together — and figure out exactly what she did in those 28 days — all while grappling with her demon’s constant attempts to return. Her family and friends aren’t exactly sympathetic. “You sorta acted like a mega bitch when you were possessed,” one friend tells her. “And a slut,” another (played by Girls’ Jemima Kirke) adds.
The only way for Ava to avoid jail time after all of her demonic misbehavior is to attend a Spirit Possessions Anonymous support group, where she and her fellow survivors talk about their feelings and learn skills to keep their “uninvited spiritual guests” away. Part of Ava’s recovery plan is to retrace her steps and atone for her possession-induced sins, which has her tracking down prostitutes and searching for the source of an enormous bloodstain in her apartment.
Ava’s quest for the truth makes the film feel like more of a detective yarn than a straight-up horror flick, and Galland elevates the noirish tone with a heavy use of atmospheric neon. But Ava’s recovery efforts get bogged down by Hazel (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), a fellow Spirit Possessions Anonymous attendee who’s developed an obsession with her former possessor and enlists Ava’s help to invite him back. (Re-summoning Hazel’s demon requires a trip to an occult shop, owned by a delightfully wicked Carol Kane.) Add in a plot about Ava’s strained relationship with her family, and it’s a lot of threads for Galland to juggle, which is why the ending feels a bit rushed and unsatisfying. Still, Krause’s deadpan wit, coupled with the inspired scenes at Spirit Possessions Anoymous, make Ava’s Possessions a fun, fresh take on a genre staple. B-