There was a time, many years ago, when the local multiplex was filled with glorious, over-the-top B-grade, genre movies — the kind of films that often defied logic, that proudly thrust a middle finger to traditional narrative storytelling and that thrilled moviegoers down to the farthest reaches of their soul.
A lot of those feature flicks were imports from other countries where directors flaunted their artistic and creative freedom, trusting that their target audience would simply strap in for the ride and gamely scream along at each new gory encounter.
Thankfully, the horror genre has seen an insurrection of late by first-time and lesser-known directors and writers who appear to be gleefully mining that same rules-be-damned spirit.
Recent examples in the U.S. include Uncaged, the werewolf coming-of-age/blackspoitation/should-be cult classic released in February 2016, and now The Possession Experiment, the debut feature from co-writer/director Scott B. Hansen.
These movies spit in the eye of conventional expectations by mashing together a slew of potentially disparate styles and fearlessly diving down different rabbit holes to see what surprises might lurk below.
Uncaged told the story of a young man who begins to learn about his lycanthrope lineage at a particularly awkward time as he’s about to enter adulthood. But then it also includes several over-the-top sequences featuring a black wannabe-gangster, a dinner party from hell, a secret covert werewolf special forces team, a love story and a prolonged subplot about two best friends who become mortal enemies. It’s as ridiculous as it is ambitious, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
The Possession Experiment follows a similar path. Cobbling from found footage, the slasher genre and a host of demonic exorcist flicks, it creates something wholly unique.
For one, The Possession Experiment starts where most traditional demonic possession movies end, with a rousing exorcism that goes bad in a hurry. What it lacks in pea soup, it more than makes up for with solid practical effects and impressive wire work in allowing a possessed woman to levitate and flail. It also showcases Bill Moseley in a rare turn as a good-guy priest instead of the maniacal bad guy killer.
From there, the film segues into a more traditional story, albeit briefly, about a college student, Brandon, who devises a plan to research a local urban legend about a house where a woman died during an exorcism (which is the opening segment) and then go to the house with a camera crew and a mystic and basically allow himself to be possessed on camera (hence, the experiment) to prove the existence of evil. Naturally, he recruits a stoner to be his camera man, which introduces some awkward humor, and a gorgeous co-ed applies to be his med tech during the possession, so you know she’s the love interest.
And then things get really weird. Brandon creates a GoFundMe campaign to finance his possession, which is a nice topical play on current technology and digital interaction. And the attention he receives from his online fundraiser introduces his parents, who are none too happy. The possession experiment itself is a blast as Dixon and Hansen pull out all the stops, employing expected tropes (slamming doors, flying objects, flickering lights) and a few new tricks (specifically the Ouija board equivalent of the Necronomicon).
By this point, The Possession Experiment is only halfway through its brief runtime. A lot has happened, but there’s so much more to go.
Suffice to say, the experiment has consequences. An evil force is unleashed. Online supporters of Brandon’s effort, desperate for more footage, get way more than they bargained for as viral possessions start to run rampant. There’s a crazy subplot introduced just past the midpoint about Brandon’s birth parents and possible ties back to the house where the opening exorcism failed. And then The Possession Experiment goes full-on slasher mode for a bit with people being gorily dispatched, jaw bones being torn asunder and all kinds of unexpected bloody mayhem.
Following a slew of similar-themed movies in recent years, coupled with the reimagining of The Exorcist on network television as a weekly serial, the demonic possession genre had begun to feel as stale as vampires and zombies. Many of the films followed a specific formula, and most of the ones that utilized found footage were a complete waste.
It's exciting then to discover a director (Hansen) and writer (Dixon) who seem to understand the failings and shortcomings that have plagued this specific genre category, and watch them bravely fly in the face of expectation by flipping the script and trying something fresh and inventive.
The Possession Experiment isn’t the best horror movie you’ve ever seen, but it is fun and rewarding in ways that most horror films aren’t of late. Some of the acting borders on camp, some of the subplots border on silly, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. You just switch your critical brain off and enjoy.
All hail the new school of horror – the fearless, the funky, the fun and fresh.
As a fan, there’s really not much more to be asked.
The Possession Experiment is currently available on most streaming Video-on-Demand platforms, as well as in limited theatrical release.
The Possession Experiment
Directed by: Scott B. Hansen
Run time: 84 minutes
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Demons, man, demons.
Buy/Rent – Yes.
Released – December 6, 2016
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