Written and directed by Andrew Cull, The Possession of David O'Reilly (aptly named The Torment in Britain), is a film I'd been waiting to see for quite awhile, hearing good things about it and wishing it up my Netflix queue anxiously.
After viewing it, I have come to believe this film is what Paranormal Activity only wishes it could be. While I sat waiting.............for something to happen in PA (that's Paranormal Activity, not my home state of Pennsylvania), David O'Reilly starts off strong and continues that way till the end.
Though it is hard to categorize, I will say that. With the title, one would obviously think it is a story of demonic possession, and maybe that's exactly what it is.
However, it has so many differing elements to it that it's hard to lump it in with possession exclusively. Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part drama...oh, it's all in there.
When the film starts we meet Alex and Kate, a good looking (not that it matters but let's just put it out there) British couple about to embark on an evening of take out and a movie at their London flat. As the movie's credits roll, Alex speaks to Kate and when she answers she says "Don't answer it"several times. Upon further scrutiny, Alex realizes Kate is sleeping, and he wakes her. Thinking she was just talking in her sleep, he pokes fun at her warning him not to open 'whatever' when a knock comes on the door. Weirded out considerably, Alex still apprehensively goes to the door. After a few moments consideration, he peeks out the door and sees his friend David there.
David, in a state of disarray and a combo of confusion and sadness, asks to come inside. Visibly shaken, he explains to Alex that he has caught his girlfriend Sara cheating on him and needs a place to stay - to which the couple at once agree to. Kate heads up to bed to let the two guys have a chat, in which David explains he found pictures of Sara naked, and he didn't take them. He's in such a state that Alex becomes concerned and tells him to make himself comfortable and go ahead and get some sleep. After awhile Alex himself heads up to bed, leaving David alone downstairs.
It becomes rapidly evident that David is one strange individual, but possibly not by his own hand. Something is going on. He anxiously watches his reflection in the bathroom mirror, is frightened to look outside the curtain, thinks he hears voices that aren't there (or are they?), and talks nervously to himself.
What we are thinking, as an audience, is that David has downright flipped his lid. The acting is so believable, so profoundly effective - that you actually have yourself thinking perhaps he has slipped into a state of paranoia. Or maybe he's showing signs of schizophrenia - he seems about the right age for it to surface, right? You begin to feel so badly for him, as he wanders around the apartment - a sweating, restless mess - that when he looks out the window and sees something walking in the back yard it quite literally scares the pants off of you. You're suddenly thinking, "did I just see that?!" Not unlike the moment in Signs where the alien walks by, you're at the edge of your seat and/or hitting the rewind on your remote. But you needn't worry, there's more where that came from.
When David gets out the salt and pours a line of salt across the doorway, there's no doubt he believes there is a demonic presence following him. He's apparently done some research, which would lead one to believe this has been going on for awhile. But even then we're still thinking 'Riiiiiiiight!"
Stranger yet is the moment when a young woman comes to the door early in the morning before Alex and Kate are up. When David answers the door the woman, very pregnant, tells him she can't actually remember why she came to the door. She doesn't recall what brought her there, but she introduces herself regardless. When David tells Alex about her later, we are baffled to hear that Alex was unaware they were finished with renovations on the top floor apartment. In other words, he didn't know there was anyone living there. Questions simply have to be raised on that subject, and they are.
Though David makes it through the first night, the suspense that builds - not entirely slowly - will have anyone a bit anxious. In the morning Alex and Kate are quizzing David about his night, whether he slept alright - and you have to wonder how on earth they slept through all the ruckus he made racing aimlessly around the apartment throughout the night. Soon David is telling Alex the whole story... that he has been seeing things, hearing things, and is desperately afraid of something.... something he can only see out of the corner of his eye, something that he can only see in the dark...something that is trying to harm him.
While David is relaying his various woes to Alex, Kate has found a notebook of David's and it's stocked full of strange journal entries and bizarre drawings - creatures that look like demons, for one. Seems something has been going on for quite some time, and there is a lot more to David's issues than meets the eye.
As we sit and listen to David, we are in the same boat as Alex. He feels so horrible for his friend, and the more he hears the more he has to assume they need to get David some serious psychological help. But when they fare much worse the second night, when Alex discovers he isn't exactly sure what he may have seen in the darkness as well, and it scares Kate. Truth be told it scares us too, because now we're not sure what we've seen either. Is there something there? One very tense moment comes when Kate wakes up to find David staring down at her and Alex, but then we see he's looking past them.
When Kate and Alex are trying to comfort David as he looks beyond them into the room, we see what he is seeing. Some sort of winged, possibly horned, dark creatures. But did we actually see that? Did they? Is it really there?
It's a serious mind-fuck of a film, actually. But it has the potential to be very frightening if you just go with it and don't think too hard about it. On one hand, it seems like a tale of a young man standing on the precipice of madness. But the other hand is feeding us some serious, demon-infested thoughts. When David is stuck in a room with the pregnant girl from upstairs, some ghastly secrets are unveiled and the film starts morphing into the supernatural realm. Hard to understand sometimes but that segment of the film is so telling - and so unnerving - that it's hard to shove it aside as coincidental.
Perhaps you can see where I'm going with this. Maybe you think you can figure out the ending. But I'm here to tell you that while not a surprise, the ending is still rather stunning. My only hope is that they are not setting it up for a sequel. It really wouldn't be plausible, but that's never stopped anyone before, has it?
All in all, this film is a far cry from the Paranormal Activities of the world. It's a movie that should be able to find a home at the very least with the dissatisfied Paranormal moviegoers. Personally, it was so much more interesting than that "other" demon possession film - much more believable, and with SO much more going on.
Best of all, I didn't need a Dramamine!