Ben Jehoshua helms The Chosen, a 2015 horror film that trades a half dozen lives for a life in a rumble for the ages. Or whatever. Based on a screenplay by Jehoshua, Barry Jay Stitch and Andrew Scheppmann, this thing is all kinds of ridiculous.
There is and will always be a place for the ridiculous. And with adjustments, the ridiculousness of The Chosen could’ve amounted to something. As it is, Jehoshua plays it mostly straight and misses a host of opportunities for black comedy and upsetting psychological horror.
YouTube character Kian Lawley stars as Cameron, a decent guy who has been helping his mother Eliza (Elizabeth Keener) care for his grandfather, grandmother and niece Angie (Mykala Sohn). Angie’s mother is the drug-addicted Caitlin (Angelica Chitwood). One day, Cameron takes Angie to visit her mom and all hell is breaking loose next door.
Cameron, decent guy that he is, interferes and discovers a woman (Melissa Navia) in trouble. She realizes that her baby is missing and blames the situation on Cameron. What’s more, Angie starts having reactions. Something’s wrong. Cameron is pressed into action to save the kid from a kidnapping demon slut named Lilith.
The plot of The Chosen involves a gambit in which Cameron, who is a decent guy, has to knock off six members of his bloodline to save Angie from demonic repossession. He bases this on what Navia’s character tells him and gets to work on figuring out which relatives have to kick the bucket.
There is a ritual involved. Cameron has to make a sort of bloody mark on the person he’s sending up as a sacrifice. He tells Caitlin of his plan to save her daughter and she hops on board and there is a scrap of discussion about the morality of such an action. Luckily, Cameron and Caitlin have an assortment of exasperating relatives to choose from. Also, some are old and near death and who cares.
The essence of The Chosen can be summed up by the nun (Penelope Richards). She says that non-children haven’t been tainted by this thing called life and are full of goop and bad things and are beyond hope. Kids are a blank slate and can still be good. Consequently, any sacrifice for such innocent beings is worth it – including the mass murder of one’s family.
While Cameron struggles a little with what he’s doing, there isn’t that much by way of a mental or spiritual or psychological struggle. It’s not so much that his character is a heartless, misogynistic, bigoted, coarse, tiny-handed, self-absorbed, apricot-domed psychopath running for public office. Cameron is, after all, a decent guy.
No, the myriad issues are related to the fact that the actor inhabiting him isn’t gifted with what some might call “range.” His emotional harvest is restricted and therefore his character’s struggles never land. Some of that is the burden of the script, which trades emotional tone for gaudy clichés and limits character development to pot-smoking and a randy girlfriend.
One could go on about whether or not a YouTube personality ought to be starring in picture but that’s immaterial. The age of new media is finding new talent in new places and that’s that. Irrespective of who he is or where he may end up or how many subscribers he has, Lawley never pushes Cameron beyond the lukewarm notion of the decent guy.
But imagine if The Chosen actually had layers. Imagine if there was a sinister comedic edge to the process of selecting which relative should die. Imagine if there were questions about whether the woman in the apartment was bullshitting Cameron with her ritualistic theory. Imagine if it was all somehow a ploy. Imagine a better movie.