The possession horror sub-genre has become a formula. A normal family suddenly starts experiencing disturbing behaviour (usually from a child) that can only be described as otherworldly, cueing a priest or a similar follower of the good word to go through with an exorcism. It’s the job of the production to rise above this predictability to offer audiences individual strengths (creepy imagery and atmospheric scares, sometimes a scene-stealing performance like Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s in The Possession).
I used to think that watching a movie fudge up every single component to a paint-by-numbers genre would be, at the very least, fascinating. But after enduring The Assent, I stand corrected. The climactic exorcism seen through the narrow perspective of someone watching through a keyhole is the least of this film’s problems.
The Assent initially pitches some interesting deviations to the formula, but ignores the potential. Take the family: we have a widowed father, Joel (Robert Kazinsky), and his young son, Mason (Caden Dragomer). Joel, an artist suppressing his schizophrenia, also struggles to make ends meet financially, living paycheque to paycheque. The father-son relationship suggests a promising dynamic (a parental reversed take on The Babadook perhaps), but writer/director Pearry Reginald Teo doesn’t elaborate on it. The two characters are written as stereotypes, and Joel’s mental illness is shamelessly taken advantage of to set up ambiguous scares for the movie. Joel’s art is inexplicably bizarre as well. If I was a demon, I would assume the artwork – which resemble various stages of shrivelled-up dead things – was a welcome banner.
When Mason starts exhibiting weird habits, Teo wants his audience to wince in fear. Instead, we cringe in embarrassment. The special effects are either cartoony (Mason’s spinning eyeballs look like a Scary Movie gag) or painful (an anaglyph hue occupies Joel’s intense visions), and the hokey practical effects look as if they are literally coming apart at the seams (most notably an awkward creature that looks like a fleshy sack of potatoes with papier-mâché faces). The inclusion of a controversial priest (Peter Jason) and his assistant (Douglas Spain) make the film more cheesy, as these two actors over-exaggerate their supporting roles.
All of these mistakes lead up to an unfulfilling twist. The conclusion has its heart in the right place but, because Pearry Reginald Teo botched the build-up, it’s the final nail in The Assent’s coffin.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie