Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Courtney Gets Possessed (2023)

In Sickness and In Hell.”
Melting ice sculptures. Sibling rivalries. A mother’s cringe-worthy honeymoon advice. Plenty of mishaps can and will throw off a bride’s special day. Perhaps nothing more can cause such damage than when an ex-flame shows up out of nowhere and that ex just happens to be….Dave. Also known as Satan.

The horror of tying the knot has never been so much fun than in director and writer combo Jono Mitchell and Madison Hatfield’s latest film Courtney Gets Possessed.

When soon-to-be-newlywed Courtney (Lauren Bugioli) becomes possessed by Dave (Jonathon Pawlowski), her bridal party – including type A maid of honor Lexi (Aditi George), jealous sister Caitlin (Madison Hatfield), and groom’s disapproving sister Jasmine (Najah Bradley) – race to exorcise Dave out of the picture for good before he makes their beloved friend tie the cursed knot for all eternity.

Following in the footsteps of famed classic The Exorcism and hit-comedy Bridesmaids, Mitchell and Hatfield captures both the anticipation and joy of such an occasion as a wedding. Using a limited setting in the characters’ main home, there’s tremendous attention to detail with the production from the neon lighting design that evokes both hell and a rave to the 80s synth theme score composed by Jordan Benett. The film manages to break the limitations of independent features to capture the essence of major studio flick – it never feels entirely claustrophobic with clever cinematography by Brett A. Frager that moves the story forward from room to room. 

As the panicked attendees take the DIY approach to get their friend back, the direction paces the unexpected bloodshed with wry humor. When a large ensemble shares sufficient scream-time and mic-drop jokes, many films stumble in losing sight of the story to capture all of the players at work and vice versa. In contrast, Courtney Gets Possessed allows Bugioli to offer a stellar leading performance with a double-take between Courtney and as Dave, but never dilutes the supporting cast into mere reinforcements. Each character leads as a star in their own right – Madison Hatfield masking Caitlin’s sarcasm with self-doubt and envy, Jonathon Pawlowski’s mischievous devilry as Dave/Satan, Najah Bradley’s Jasmine heartfelt protectiveness over her brother and charismatic bait Zae Jordan Glen, Aditi George’s spinning Lexi’s perfectionism into nerdy endearment, Steve Reddington’s blusters of expletives will live in my head rent-free – to name a few. It's difficult to point out one performance over another, speaking to how evenly focused the directors were to both the plot and characters.

Performing a cover of boy band hits and delving into sibling rivalries while performing a How To: Exorcise The Devil can only be carried on with verve if trust is infused by the directors and carried on by the actors. As the characters feel the pressure to save Courtney while peeking at the Prince of Darkness’s Wikipedia and throwing together impromptu internet-ordained exorcisms, Hatfield and Mitchell maintain a steady confidence over their inspiration from cinema and wedding season. While there are notable homages and nods to classic demonic possession movies, the duo at the helm put their own confident stamp on both comedy and horror. Even though every day is a good day for an exorcism for some – for others, not so much. But Courtney Gets Possessed certainly makes a must-watch good case for it.

Rating: ★★★★★

Note: I was provided with a screener to provide this review. Be sure to check out Courtney Gets Possessed - available on digital and demand November 3rd.

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