One of the most overdone subgenres of horror, the possession movie, is also not going anywhere anytime soon. Comfort food for horror fans, they scratch all the itches of the audience while still being mostly entertaining enough in their own right. Movies like The Assent help illuminate why that is by offering a slightly fresh perspective on an age-old concept. Initially following a father and son as they wrestle with supernatural events occurring within their home, Pearry Reginald Teo’s latest film pulls the rug out from under viewers in an admirable and ambitious way that justifies another exorcism film like this to exist.
Suffering from hallucinations as a symptom of his schizophrenia, Joel (Robert Kazinsky) is barely making ends meet as a widowed father with a job paying less-than-minimum wage. He’s also on the verge of losing his son, Mason (Caden Dragomer), to social services if he can’t prove he can provide for his son. When Joel begins noticing his son behaving strangely, he is visited by Father Lambert (Peter Jason), who recently was released from prison after a botched exorcism killed the child host, and who also believes Mason is possessed by the same demon he’s been hunting for years.
The most interesting hook in all of this is not the plot twist that happens near the end and recontextualizes the film, but instead, the movie’s exploration of a single parent with a psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia also wrestling with their child being possessed by Satan. It can be a lot to take in and the film often feels cheesier than it probably originally intended, but The Assent has so many ideas packed into its brief runtime that it’s admirable for it to try as much as it does. The plot centers itself around Joel’s struggle to take care of Mason and retains that fatherly love even when it heads into the eventual exorcism plot. Everything is seen from Joel’s perspective, even the exorcism, so there’s a dedication to his character which keeps everything grounded.
While The Assent is still just another exorcism movie, it’s one that is willing to reach beyond its grasp.
It also helps that a lot of the scares come from his hallucinations. Armed with a polaroid camera to take photos in areas he thinks he sees things, Joel is constantly playing a balancing act between what’s real and what isn’t. When they happen, the camera takes on Those same hallucinations are also frequent enough that they start losing their appeal, with the movie pulling the same tricks as every other horror film. This goes along with the idea that The Assent is never really more than just well-done comfort food. It can range from silly to tense, but it smartly decides to focus on Joel for its narrative and perspective. Even with a character like Father Lambert offering a character worth diving into, the film justifiably keeps his personal demons at bay for a more enjoyably haggard performance by John Carpenter-alum, Peter Jason.
While The Assent is still just another exorcism movie, it’s one that is willing to reach beyond its grasp. Almost taking a kitchen sink approach to its horror concepts, the film employs just enough tricks to entertain without ever really dazzling. Unfortunately, it also loses its way in the home stretch with a stubborn acknowledgment that it didn’t really seed its ending twist well enough to forego a detailed explanation. Ambitious and sufficiently terrifying, The Assent is a satisfying possession film that does an excellent job lulling audiences into its nightmare.
Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.