Review: The Possession of Hannah Grace

by Andrew Parker

I guess it’s time to talk about The Possession of Hannah Grace, not because it’s even worth discussing, but merely because it’s a film that exists. If we have to talk about The Possession of Hannah Grace – which wasn’t screened in advance of its release for most critics because it’s one of the most stupefyingly dull mainstream horror offerings in history – let’s start at the ending. Not the ending of the film, but just after that, when I left the theatre and made my way home.

For a good fifteen to twenty minutes on the commute from the cinema to my computer I couldn’t remember the name of the film I had just watched for the life of me. Was it The Exorcism of Hannah Grace? Well, the film begins with an exorcism, so that would make sense. Was it The Haunting of Hannah Grace? Well, there’s some haunting that’s certainly happening. Was it The Resurrection of Hannah Grace? Well, there’s some of that, too. Come to think of it, wasn’t this originally titled something differently before settling on the generic, interchangeable title The Possession of Hannah Grace? Yes. It was originally titled Cadaver, which both makes sense and is equally generic, but fewer people would probably have to look up the word “possession” in a dictionary, and the new title sounds vaguely like it should be a sequel to something.

That was all I thought about on the way home. I didn’t think about the actual nuts and bolts details of The Possession of Hannah Grace, and I fear I will have to struggle to remember a lick of it now. Retelling that story about trying to remember the title really happened, and it’s a better story than anything that can be found in The Possession of Hannah Grace. And I’ll freely admit that my story was terrible, self serving, and didn’t go anywhere exciting. It’s a fucking thrill ride compared The Possession of Hannah Grace, which might as well have just been titled Generic Movie.

Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is a former Boston cop and recovering addict trying to get her life back on track after a tragedy sent her off the deep end and into rehab. With the help of her friend and NA sponsor (Stana Katic), she lands a thankless gig looking after the morgue of a local hospital during the 11pm to 7am shift. There’s not much to do unless the alarm signalling the arrival at of a new stiff at the intake dock starts blaring, and not much to keep her busy during the frequent periods of downtime. That all changes with the arrival of the body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), a 22 year old apparent murder victim with grisly wounds and burns over half her body. After Hannah’s somewhat equally murderous and threatening father (Louis Herthum) breaks into the morgue and is thwarted in his attempt to burn the corpse, Megan learns that the young, dead woman was involved in an exorcism gone awry. Fearing no one will believe the word of a recovering addict, Megan tries to keep her wits about her as the haunting of the morgue intensifies and the bodies of her friends start piling up.

Directed by Dutch filmmaker Diederik Van Rooijen in a style that suggests he knows how light an unadorned piece of brutalist architecture rather well, and written by Brian Sieve (who penned not one, but two direct-to-video Boogeyman sequels) with a nose of cliches served cold and an allergy to any form of originality, The Possession of Hannah Grace is the horror movie equivalent of a xanax bender. If it weren’t so blandly competent in its appearance and overall ambiance, The Possession of Hannah Grace and its parade of not-even-remotely frightening jump scares would be insulting. To some degree it is in insult, especially by the sixth time the film tries to make viewers gasp by slamming the same door shut at various points. The Possession of Hannah Grace is so desperate to spook people that it resorts to gotcha moments involving automatic hand dryers and a rubber band ball, and at one point with both items used in the same scene! Good thing Hannah got that painstakingly long tour of the morgue premises when she first got hired, or else the audience might actually be scared by something.

The only semi-original visual trick Rooijen can muster is also the stupidest thing in the entire idiotic film: the fact that all of the morgue’s lights are controlled by motion detectors, and that they turn off whenever motion hasn’t been detected for an infrequently determined and often convenient period of time. It’s such a brazen ploy to create shadows and lights-out moments that it’s pretty hilarious, and that suspension of disbelief isn’t helped by the fact that Megan has to flail her arms every time she enters a new space to just turn the fluorescents on. (Credit where due, however: until the moments when the stock musical score comes bleating in, Rooijen does make effective use of the morgue’s whisper quiet surroundings. Again, it’s never terrifying, but it does heighten the sense that Megan’s down there alone rather nicely.)

Who really cares about this kind of horror movie at this point? It’s the equivalent of reading a shopping list written by a twelve year old. Is the spooky corpse played by a contortionist? Check. Is every character other than Megan a lamb for the slaughter? Check. Can the demon make its victims levitate into Christ-like poses? Check. Will Megan’s troubled backstory be used by the demon to gain an advantage over the hero? Check. Will there be a scene where Megan has to defend herself from the demon’s gaslighting? Check. Will a character be killed in the scene that comes directly after they’re made to look sympathetic and caring? Check several times over. I would say that The Possession of Hannah Grace is the kind of dirge-like bit of low aiming entertainment that one could set a clock to, but it seems to have been made by and for people who need step by step instructions on how to set the clock. None of this is surprising. It all happens in the expected order. None of it could even quicken the pulse of a teenager already hopped up on energy drinks and on the verge of a heart attack.

None of the cast members get to shine, and Mitchell proves to be a terrible choice of lead. There’s some meat on her character’s bones, but Mitchell seems clueless as to how to convey Megan’s PTSD and inner trauma. She can barely even seem credibly scared, more often than not coming across as confused or mildly perturbed. It’s bad enough that Mitchell displays positively none of the charisma that could sustain a leading performance or that she looks chronically bored, but she can’t even properly sell the basest of visceral emotions that could’ve made certain moments more fun or spooky than they ultimately are. I don’t know much about Mitchell’s work overall before this, and I kind of feel bad ripping into her performance, but like the movie around her, there’s no word to describe it other than “bad.” It’s the worst leading performance in any film I’ve seen this year, but thankfully it’s also in one of the most forgettable overall efforts in recent memory.

The Possession of Hannah Grace, or whatever the hell it’s called, is a complete and utter waste of time made by hardly anyone who seemingly wanted to craft a genuinely entertaining film. It the kind of film that makes 85 minutes feel like six hours, and one where I hope the entire production was completed more or less in real time so everyone involved could swiftly move on with their lives and onto other projects they actually cared about. There’s no care that went into making anything other than the lighting rigs for The Possession of Hannah Grace, and you shouldn’t care about it, either. You should probably forget about the whole damn thing, which is precisely what I plan on doing as soon as I finish writing this sentence.

The Possession of Hannah Grace opens in theatre everywhere on Friday, November 30, 2018.

Check out the trailer for The Possession of Hannah Grace:

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