Another month, another possession horror movie on Netflix. Maybe the streaming platform needs to call an exorcist. We’ve seen no shortage in demonic thrillers popping up over the last couple of years. Mark of the Devil, The Crucifixion, Soul to Keep, Paranormal Investigation, etc., etc. Maybe you’ve seen some of these titles. If so, there’s a good chance you either can’t remember them or you’re confusing one movie with another. None of these demonic thrillers was memorable. Now Netflix is streaming The Assent. Yet unlike some these possession movies, The Assent had something of a decent marketing campaign. In particular, the movie’s poster was bona fide creepiness. And the meaning given to its title – the point at which the afflicted accepts the demon – promised perhaps something fresh from the subgenre. In spite of early potential, the lack of any reviews on Rotten Tomatoes may be scarier than the movie’s trailer.
Single father Joel struggles to raise his son, Mason, while coping with his own schizophrenia and the recent loss of his wife. To make matters worse, Joel’s ‘job’ barely earns him enough to pay for childcare. And his social worker, Dr Maya, is threatening to take Mason away if he can’t provide a more secure life. Soon Mason starts exhibiting strange behaviours causing Joel to fear that he’s passed on his mental illness. But his babysitter fears it’s much worse. She turns to a disgraced from priest, jailed for a tragic exorcism, who believe a demon has possessed Mason.
The Assent Doesn’t Possess Enough Scares for Horror Fans
Neither horror fans nor fans of psychological thrillers will find much to enjoy with The Assent. It’s unfortunate, too, because writer and director Pearry Reginald Teo shows some potential. With regards to the story, Teo initially seems interested in taking the road less traveled. Yes, the expository opening voice-over feels creaky, but Teo subsequently focuses on character. That is, The Assent has ambitions of playing ambiguous with its demonic possession astory. Anyone who has seen They Look Like People – which handles themes of mental illness quite well – will appreciate the approach. Much of the first third of the movie teases the possibility that none of what you see is real. Even its exorcism unfolds in brief snippets seen from Joel’s outsider perspective. It’s these parts of the movie that work best; The Assent descends into derivative territory any time the focus shifts to Father Lambert’s story.
Instead of swerving toward the unexpected, Teo gives you the ending you likely saw coming.
Sadly, The Assent gives in to subgenre tropes with a lazy twist. Instead of swerving toward the unexpected, Teo gives you the ending you likely saw coming. Like too many twist endings, The Assent also has to rely heavily on expository dialogue and flashbacks. At least Teo demonstrates some craftsmanship. Though there likely wasn’t much money sunk into this one, Teo plays saturates several scenes with discordant colours and lighting. The creature effects are also relatively well done with Teo being careful not to overexpose the images to audiences. He uses jerky camera motions and quick edits to approximate Joel’s disorientation. All these bits of potential, however, don’t result in a scary or suspenseful movie. In fact, The Assent is largely free of any genuine thrills. While it’s not a long movie, the story drags and gaps in action provide plenty of opportunities to get up and do something else.
Underwhelming Cast Under-Serves Movie’s Potential
Most horror fans won’t immediately recognize any of the cast. Aside from veteran character actor Peter Jason, who plays Father Lambert, The Assent features unknown performers. Jason has popped up in several John Carpenter movies in brief supporting roles. Here, he largely comes off as a ‘poor man’s’ Malcolm McDowell. He grimaces, explains, and looks concerned, as the screenplay requires. All the other performers feel out of their depth. As struggling father, Joel, Robert Kazinsky is by no means bad in the role. However, he lacks the dramatic heft to pull off what’s being asked of him. At times, Kazinsky’s delivery feels too flat to reel audiences into his worsening predicament.
As struggling father, Joel, Robert Kazinsky is by no means bad in the role. However, he lacks the dramatic heft to pull off what’s being asked of him.
Less impressive is Florence Faivre as social worker Dr Maya. If Kazinsky is a little flat, Faivre goes pretty broad with the role. Some of her dialogue delivery borders on hammy. Other cast members feel like complete novices. Somehow The Assent managed to cast Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal. That’s either good or bad for O’Neal, whose last major acting credit was a Criminal Minds guest role. Regardless her presence has little impact on the movie’s overall quality. She’s fine in the role, but clearly a far ways away from Paper Moon.
The Assent Can’t Exorcise a ‘Been There, Done That’ Feel
Somewhere in The Assent was a good idea looking to get out. To his credit, Teo eschews some possession movie tropes for a more psychological approach. Moreover, The Assent occasionally rises above its small budget, flashing some stylish flourishes. But the overall lack of scares and suspense leaves the thriller feeling more plodding than thrilling. It’s also unfortunate that Teo abandons his more ambiguous approach to the material for a more heavy-handed, and expected, plot twist. Ultimately, horror fans won’t find much here that they haven’t seen in a dozen or so other possession movies.