GORE IN THE STORE
THE ASSENT **
Directed by Pearry Reginald Teo.
Starring Robert Kazinsky, Peter Jason, Douglas Spain, Hannah Ward, Florence Faivre, Caden Dragomer, Tatum O'Neal.
Horror, Israel/UK/USA, 88 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD and Digital Download by Dazzler Media on 27th July 2020.
The trouble with the possession movie is that it was done to perfection in 1973 with THE EXORCIST so everything that came afterwards seemed derogatory or a pale imitation (although AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION gets a pass, purely for being so silly and for being extremely liberal with ‘facts’). Also, in this age of CGI being able to create distorted facial features and wibbly wobbly shadow effects at the push of a button, the actual craft of trying to make a creepy victim of possession seems to have diminished somewhat, and the lower budgets and availability of streaming outlets means that the possession movie has gone the same way that the zombie movie took during the last decade.
Which doesn’t always mean they are of a lesser quality but the sheer quantity of them means that filmmakers need a very special angle to make their movie stick out, and THE ASSENT certainly has ambition to do something that many movies in this genre suggest but never go into too deeply by making schizophrenia the central conceit that the main character Joel (Robert Kazinsky – PACIFIC RIM) suffers from. However, as if a man struggling with his own demons wasn’t enough to make you sympathise with him he is also a widower, raising his young son Mason (Caden Dragomer) whilst trying to earn enough money to put food on the table and keep the social services from putting Mason in care, so he really does have a lot resting on him.
Unfortunately, anyone savvy enough to know their Pazuzu from their Paimon will be able to see what is coming as Joel’s regular babysitter Cassis (Hannah Ward) quits with little notice, causing him to get more than a little upset and make his schizophrenic hallucinations get worse. Feeling guilty and looking for help for Joel, Cassie turns to her priest Brother Michael (Douglas Spain) who is currently sheltering Father Lambert (Peter Jason – THEY LIVE), a controversial priest who has just been released from prison after the death of a child during an exorcism. Lambert seems very interested in Cassie’s story and both he and Michael pay Joel a visit, but when they arrive they are told that Mason has been acting very strangely... You can probably guess the rest.
Or you can once you follow the few curveballs that writer/director Pearry Reginald Teo peppers into the script to try and throw you, going down the ‘is it real or is it a vision?’ route that many a horror movie has gone down but few have pulled off successfully without needing a huge twist to have it all make sense. THE ASSENT does have more twists than a helter skelter but none of them really hit with any great sense of revelation or a big reveal. Teo does introduce the neat idea of Joel using a Polaroid camera every time he has a hallucination, so he can prove that what he is ‘seeing’ isn’t real, but that idea never really pays off with any great merit. Instead we are left with a man with not a lot going for him having a mental breakdown whilst questioning whether his son is possessed as those around him try and make sense of a situation that literally does not make sense, even though the movie tries very hard to make it do so.
A very visually dark film to go with the bleak story, THE ASSENT does boast a committed actor in its lead role as Robert Kazinsky does emote enough through the material to make you feel for Joel, even when things start to hit the fan for him and the writing doesn’t give you much to grasp onto. Tatum O’Neal and Florence Faivre fare the best out of the supporting characters as a doctor and Joel’s social services contact respectively, but Peter Jason as Father Lambert comes off as a poor man’s Malcolm McDowell, chewing the scenery as if he were in a daytime soap opera version of THE EXORCIST but without having seen the proper movie first. Again, the potential was there for Father Lambert to make a big impact as an unscrupulous character with ulterior motives but the script never gives you what you really want from him, and what it does give you is in no way satisfactory given the character’s introduction.
There are those that will praise THE ASSENT for being ambitious and clever in its approach, which is giving it far too much credit as all it really does is employ one or two smart ideas with potential and wraps them up in genre clichés, ropey acting and paper-thin writing. It does have a creepy look in its set dressing that in any other movie might be an advantage but when you’re trying to set up your main character as a doting single father with a few grief issues, decorating his dimly-lit house with sculptures that look like H.R. Giger went to the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE house for inspiration is probably not the best way to set things up. In any regard THE ASSENT, for all of its lofty ambition, is a grindingly slow 88 minutes that rewards the patient viewer with a few nuggets of psychological horror that ultimately just don’t go anywhere, let alone where the filmmakers intended.