The Assent is the new demonic possession horror movie from writer/director Pearry Reginald Teo (Cloud Atlas, Necromentia) and stars Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim, Warcraft) as Joel and Peter Jason (Prince of Darkness, Deadwood) as Father Lambert.
Joel is a single father who suffers from schizophrenia, which results in auditory and visual hallucinations. He deals with this in two ways: by taking his medication and also by using a polaroid instant camera so he can tell the difference between his visions and reality. A widower, he just about scrapes by working as a mechanic, earning just enough to pay for the babysitter who looks after his son Mason. He attends regular sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr. Maya (Florence Faivre – The Expanse, Agents of SHIELD), who is less than sympathetic to his plight and threatens that if he doesn’t buck his ideas up, he might lose custody of his son.
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What starts off as a family drama rapidly unfolds into something far darker and nastier as Joel’s hallucination attacks get worse, and strange events start to occur around Mason. Into this mix comes Father Lambert, recently released from prison after an exorcism gone wrong, along with his associates Brother Michael (Douglas Spain – Band of Brothers, NCIS) and Dr Hawkins (Tatum O’Neal – Paper Moon, Rescue Me) who warn him that he’s going to need some rather more otherworldy help to get out of this.
Visually, The Assent is an interesting film, with some great effects and good camerawork. The way it portrays Joel’s attacks reminds me strongly of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, the strange shimmering effect that overlaid the appearance of Pinbacker along with a subtle split in colour that was reminiscent of the old red/green 3D glasses you used to get. The set design is strong as well, with Joel’s house full of artwork and sculpture that might even make H.R. Giger himself want to dial it back a notch or two. The predominant colour scheme could be described as “black, with highlights of decapitated doll heads and animal bones”. It’s a shame the film doesn’t really dig deeper into the particular symbolism or rationale behind it all, it’s just kinda there.
The same can be said about the artwork for this film. It features a truly disturbing image of a child’s head, but the face is missing, replaced instead with a grille through which strange and unpleasant things can be seen crawling. Is it a drain cover? Does it represent the screen in a confession booth? It’s hard to tell and it’s an image which never shows up within the film. The film’s horror visuals are certainly striking in their own way but at no point does anyone have a face full of holes and it doesn’t really seem to tie into the plot in any meaningful way. Shame.
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Moving on, let’s talk about my personal bugbear of horror films: the jumpscare. There are a few to be found here, but oddly enough they don’t feel as egregious as they have in other films. Each one fits into the scene and is executed well enough to not just startle but genuinely scare and that’s enough to earn a pass from me.
Performance wise, Robert Kainzsky is great. He’s authentic, personable and sympathetic. His responses feel genuine, his emotions ringing true. Peter Jason is just a delight to watch as ever, bringing his own gruff charm and intensity to the character of Lambert, who walks out of prison utterly determined to pick up where he left off in pursuit of the demon he unsuccessfully tried to exorcise at the beginning of the film.
Soundtrack duties are taken up here by Frederik Wiedmann who, well, damn, he’s scored some bad movies. Doom: Annihilation, Hangman, and Scorpion King: Book of Souls to name but three. Now that’s no slight against his musical chops, but he deserves better than that! The music here is good, and I hope it gets a soundtrack release so I can properly listen to it on its own.
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The biggest problem The Assent faces is that the exorcism/possession genre already has a glut of damn fine movies. There’s the granddaddy of them all – The Exorcist, but there’s also The Conjuring, The Last Exorcism and the Exorcism of Emily Rose which are all brilliant films. Does this do enough to stand out from the crowd? I’m going to say yes. The addition of the mental illness aspect is a nice touch, lending an ambiguity and uncertainty to all the events the audience witnesses, as we see almost all of them from solely Joel’s perspective. Is it a must buy? No, but it’s one worth checking out.
The Assent is available to own on DVD and Digital from 27th July.