There are scary movies, and then there are horrifying ones—not the kind that jump out in the dark to frighten you, but the kind that are already there, burrowed under your eyelids and waiting for you to blink.
The Assent, starring Robert Kazinsky (Captain Marvel, Pacific Rim), Eileen Dietz (The Exorcist), Peter Jason, and Florence Faivre is a new film written and directed by Pearry Teo (The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, Cloud Atlas), which debuted October 23rd 2019 at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada. A movie that traverses the space been real and imagined horror, The Assent tells the story of widower Joel Clarke (Robert Kazinsky) who is struggling to make ends meet and keep it together for his son, Mason (Caden Dragomer). Joel is also presumably suffering from a sort of grief-induced schizophrenia after losing his wife two years prior. As Mason declines, he can no longer differentiate the world around him from the new reality that exists in his head and haunts him in the form of harrowing, nightmarish visions. Worse, he worries his son might be displaying the same markers of mental fragmentation that manifests every bit as gruesomely as demonic possession, requiring the assistance of both Joel’s therapist and a recently-disgraced priest, Father Lambert (Peter Jason), who believes an exorcism is the only path to the Clarke’s salvation.
On the surface a demonology film, the true horror of The Assent lies between the blurred lines of supernatural horror and psychological terror, both of which provide fertile ground for experimenting with the dark and often ominous concept of possession. This is exactly what Teo—known for his ability to bend and entangle fantasy and the bleakest of reality—intended. “I think The Assent, under the context of exorcism, is really about my view on mind versus soul,” says Teo. “It’s religion versus science, and inception versus perception.”
“I think The Assent, under the context of exorcism, is really about my view on mind versus soul,” says Teo. “It’s religion versus science, and inception versus perception.”
True to his vision, The Assent is indeed one part a story of possession, both of the biblical kind and also that of the self-inflicted, and one part a parable of the penalties of free will and the power of choice. It provides a compelling narrative on the dangers of living in a mind that is no longer your own, and the crumbling consequences of absolutism—theological or scientific—as well as the incredible power of assent. This makes the film’s title all the more poignant: it’s not ascending out of darkness, but Assenting to its consumption.
This poignancy is one that weaves itself through every aspect of the film through Teo’s spectacular knack for visual cinematography that adds another dimension to the story that is worth mentioning in itself. From shifting hues and deteriorating settings that color the stages of possession and provide a backdrop to the emotional state of the characters, to the intentional inclusion of analog technologies that reflect Mason’s disconnect, to hidden Easter eggs of quintessential horror movies past, nothing about The Assent is accidental. It’s a cinematic cornucopia of subtle and yet totally intentional world-building that make one of the film’s most powerful lines—“demons leave traces of the hunger”—come, for lack of better word, alive.
If you thought Halloween was over October 31, just wait until November. The Assent will lead the weekend on opening night at Shockfest Film Festival Las Vegas on November 22, 2019.
About The Assent (IMDB):
After a series of disturbing supernatural events in his home, Joel a young single father, comes to suspect that his young son may be possessed.