On the list of things that might mark a fledgling low-budget indie horror filmmaker as being the ambitious sort, adding material to no less a societal cornerstone than The Bible itself probably ranks somewhere near the top, but how you get from dysfunctional family drama to that is — well, let’s just say “not an easy path to travel,” shall we? Because it’s not. And to be honest, why somebody would even try it in the first place is well and truly beyond my understanding. But what the heck, I’m not Ben Jehoshua.
Nor do I even know who Ben Jehoshua is, really — all I know about him is that he directed (and co-wrote, along with one Barry Jay Stich) a movie that I watched on Netflix last night, 2015’s The Chosen. And based on the evidence offered here, I don’t think Mr. Jehoshua needs to worry about becoming a household name anytime soon.
I hate to bad-mouth a guy who’s obviously trying to do his best, I really do, but before “giving something your all,” as the saying goes, it usually helps to make sure that said “something” is worth the effort, and The Chosen is such a confused piece of work from start to finish that walking away from it in utter disgust and/or despair would seem a more logical course of action on the part of its makers than putting in the long weeks, perhaps even months, that were required to get it “in the can.” And yet persevere they did — for reasons known only to them — and what we’re left with is an obvious labor of love that’s pretty hard to actually like.
The basic set-up goes like this : little(-ish) Angie (played by Mykala Sohn) lives with her uncle, Charlie (Kian Lawley, the nominal “star” of the film) and his mom (Elizabeth Keener), who in turn live with her parents (Chris Gann and Dayna Devon) and her brother (Casey James). The elder members of the family are all hopeless alcoholics, but Angie’s been placed/fallen into their care because her own mother (Angelica Chitwood) is a drug addict, and apparently that’s worse than being a drunk.
But wait! We’re not done! Our “hero,” Uncle Charlie, interrupts a demonic sacrifice with his niece in tow one evening (hey, shit happens) and now the demon being summoned has taken up residence inside the little girl, but it’s not just any demon — it’s the spirit of Adam (of Adam and Eve fame)’s first wife, who’s actually the first female that ever existed, and was apparently dumped by her old man in favor of some new bitch who came along that grew from his own rib. So, I mean, she’s been mad a long time and definitely won’t go away easy.
I may have one or two of the above details mixed-up, I suppose, but it doesn’t really matter all that much because, well, the story’s just not very involving and deteriorates into fairly standard-issue “possessed child” stuff pretty quickly. I give Jehoshua credit for coaxing reasonably good performances out of his entire cast from top to bottom, as well as for judicious use of his no-doubt-meager special effects budget, but on the whole that’s about all The Chosen really has going for it, and in the end that’s simply not a strong enough skeletal structure to drape a paper-thin — and thread-bare — concept over.
Could it be worse? Oh, hell yes, without question — we’ve seen this same trope absolutely butchered by hands less skilled than these. But it could also be a whole hell of a lot better by ditching a lot of the extraneous plot elements and simplifying things down to something more attainable by such a modest production. It’s called “knowing your limits,” and while I certainly respect the idea of shooting for the moon, if the ship you’ve built isn’t even physically capable of getting you out of low-Earth orbit, then you either need to somehow hustle up the time and money required to build a better one, or set your sights a little lower and do a better job of achieving your more modest aims. Otherwise you’re just gonna burn up in the atmosphere.
And now that we’ve stretched that particular (and, who are we kidding, pretty damn forced) metaphor well beyond its breaking point, I’ll wrap things up on a much more simple and straightforward note by saying that watching The Chosen isn’t how you should choose to spend 90 minutes (or thereabouts) of your life.