Video On Demand: The Assent (2019) - Reviewed

The devil-horror movie is a genre that will replicate itself into the ground well past the point of oversaturation and into suffocating the marketplace.  Not a critique, just an observation, that this subgenre for big and low budget filmmakers is the THING that won’t leave.  The latest cinematic acolyte to find his footing in this trend is Singaporean writer-director Pearry Reginald Teo with his unique but ultimately stagnant spin on the devil-horror film The Assent

Known as the first Singaporean actor to direct a Hollywood movie, Teo’s The Assent poses the notion that demonic possession comes in stages.  While the first two are familiar, The Presence and The Affliction, which deal with the appearance of and possession by a demon, the third stage taking the film’s title The Assent represents the point in which the human host and demonic entity become inseparable.  Following underemployed single-dad Joel (Robert Kazinsky whom you may remember as the antagonist from Pacific Rim) with his son Mason (Caden Dragomer) in a household surrounded by creepy homemade knick-knacks, seemingly stemming from (or plaguing?) Joel’s schizophrenic mind. 

In the time-honored tradition of these films the boy eventually becomes possessed.  As the pious Father Lambert (Peter Jason) and Brother Michael (Douglas Spain) show up to do battle with all that’s unholy, the plot thickens when Joel’s psychiatrist Dr. Maya (Florence Faivre) suggesting the whole thing might just be a figment of Joel’s fevered imagination. 

On paper this idea can make for some truly scary new directions for the subgenre.  Unfortunately as it bores on (literally and figuratively), The Assent outside of some subliminal jump scares and a sneaky cameo by The Exorcist alumni Eileen Dietz torpidly trudges and slogs along until it ends.  Rather disappointing considering how promisingly this began.  While the film does dabble in some nifty editing techniques resembling the blue and red colored blurring of a 3D movie to emphasize Joel’s psychological state, as horror The Assent occasionally startles rather than scares.

Visually the creepy interior design of Joel’s home, possibly an outward reflection of his psyche, is well rendered by production designer Ryan Kaercher and art director Roger C. Ambrose who loads the set with all kinds of spooky arts and crafts that would make the likes of Giger or Bosch blush.  The sets are well lensed in heavy deep blues by Jonathan Hall and the original score by Frederik Wiedmann is creepy enough for any devil horror flick. 

The problem, however, lies with the performances which are somewhere between half-hearted or just plain bad.  Robert Kazinsky gives the role his all but this is more or less better suited for someone like Thomas Jane.  Moreover, Douglas Spain and little Caden Dragomer have to be among the worst onscreen actors in recent memory.  It doesn’t help that these characters are broadly drawn archetypes and priests more or less go through the motions demanded by a devil horror flick such as this.

A path horror-moviegoers have been down one too many times before, The Assent disappoints by offering something new we hadn’t thought of before regarding devil horror movies only to do nothing interesting with it.  Yeah it features Eileen Dietz in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo but that already just makes me want to watch the king of all devil horror movies instead.  The Assent begins with a novel idea only to wash its hands of it before the film even starts unspooling.  All in all, a wasted opportunity.