I’m always up for a good possession film, especially since the devil is always a formidable foe in the horror genre. With The Assent, director and writer Pearry Reginald Teo strives for a new take on the notion of a diabolical threat amidst tragedy.
Joel Clark (Robert Kazinsky), is a single father dealing with the death of his wife while caring for his young son Mason (Caden Dragomer). He has schizophrenia and is desperately trying to manage his mental illness, a low-paying job and show his social worker/therapist he is a fit parent. When his sitter Carrie (Hannah Ward) announces she is going back to school, thus can no longer care for Mason, who behaving strangely, Joel reaches his breaking point.
Concerned for Joel, and seeing something that frightening in the house, Carrie turns to her parish priest, Brother Michael (Douglas Spain), for advice. Fortunately, Brother Michael has a guest, disgraced priest Father Lambert (Peter Jason), staying with him who might know what is occurring in the house. Having spent time in jail for a botched exorcism related death, Father Lambert is determined to vanquish the evil that sent him to prison and, when he hears Carrie’s concern, is sure Mason is being tormented by a demon. Desperate to save the child, he heads to Joel and Mason’s home hoping it is not too late.
The Assent tries to be a modern gothic possession tale but becomes problematic when it rides on the back of mental illness. Historically, damage has been done as a result of mentally ill people being vilified by the church, and the approach in this film doesn’t quite capture a sympathetic tone. It also has a judgy bent on artists who create things other than warm, fuzzy rainbow paintings, and implies that the lead character Joel has brought a demon into his home due to his grief. This leaves a bad taste and climbs a slippery slope in this day and age.
The performances are ham-fisted and clunky, as is the script. Veteran horror actor Peter Jason went for the gold medal in bone-crunching delivery, and Douglas Spain had no presence under such an overbearing performance. There’s also a cameo by Tatum O’Neal as an ordained physician, and her strategic omission from the film’s IMDb listing says volumes. The set design and special effects and creature design were the only saving grace, even though the entire film looked like an extended music video. Points also go to the use of a Polaroid camera as a device to distinguish reality from Joel’s hallucinations, but it also didn’t help with trying to place the time frame in which the film happens.
Ultimately, what tries to be a stylized, emotionally fraught horror film comes off as insensitive fodder for a late-night view.