Movie Review: "The Possession of Hannah Grace" (2018)
Exorcism and possession are tried and true settings that also come with a fairly extensive set of tropes attached: contorted and crunchy spinal twists, yelling preachers, spider-walks, the utterance of terrible epithets, and distraught parents. The Possession of Hannah Grace has all those things in abundance along with an insanely dark color palette and dreary vibe. Setting the majority of the film inside a morgue that looks like the horror cousin of every location in Equilibrium changes the game a bit, but it’s not enough to make it one of the must-see outings of 2018.
Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell; Pretty Little Liars) is a former cop who’s struggling through addiction, a fresh breakup with her cop ex-boyfriend, Andrew (Grey Damon; CW series The Flash), and a traumatic incident where she failed to act and cost her partner his life. Her AA sponsor, Lisa (Stana Katic; ABC series Castle), gets her a job on night intake at the Boston Metro Hospital (sounds therapeutic, right?). Soon after she starts, she receives the body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson). Things rapidly spiral out of control. At first, her drawer won’t stay shut. Then her body disappears. Before you can say “this isn’t right!” a man sneaks into the morgue and attempts to cremate her body, attacking Megan and security in the process. It only gets worse from there- her drawer won’t stay shut, the body disappears and reappears, and her wounds are healing. Also, why are her eyes a different color now?
Here’s the things about The Possession of Hannah Grace: while the possession angle is necessary to the hook of the narrative, it’s the least compelling part of the film. The exorcism scene is a class in Tropes 101, bolstered slightly by a surprise move from Dad (Louis Herthum; HBO series Westworld). The meat of the story really lies with Megan and her personal demons (a clear metaphoric echo to the force hiding inside the body of Hannah). Shay Mitchell is a fantastic actress who makes the best of a relatively hollow character. Her work carries the compelling part of the story.
Once the story settles into the overly dark morgue, the standard scares get rolling. You won’t see anything here that you haven’t seen before (and probably more effectively done), but Kirby Johnson makes it worth your while. A contortionist and talented dancer, she has a physicality that helps her to really inhabit the role and make it freaky. Hardened horror fiends may roll their eyes at the “been there, done that” action, but you really must give it up for good old Hannah…she’s a memorable character. It’s one of the better performances of the year in a movie that isn’t one of the year’s best. The SFX work is high quality and gruesome, though sparse.
Depending on how easily you are bothered by repetitive jump scares and auditory tricks to build tension (i.e. are you a horror vet?), you may find something here for you. There is one standout scene that works its way up level after level of a stairwell that is visually symbolic, beautifully shot, and hideously effective. You’ll know it when you see it.
The Possession of Hannah Grace is, in short, nothing that you haven’t seen before. That isn’t to say that it’s dreck by any stretch, but it ends up earning that most damnable of praise: you could do a lot worse, but you could also do much better.
2.5 out of 5.0 stars