PLOT: A shocking exorcism spirals out of control, claiming the life of a young woman. Months later, morgue worker Megan Reed takes delivery of a disfigured cadaver during the graveyard shift. Locked inside the basement corridors, Megan’s horrifying visions soon lead her to believe that the body is possessed by a demonic force.
REVIEW: Thank the movie gods that I knew next to nothing about director Diederik Van Rooijen’s THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE before stepping into my local multiplex last night for an advanced screening. I didn’t watch the trailers and I didn’t even read the plot synopsis. But I saw the poster. No, not this one, or that one, but this one. Yeah, that creepy shite had chills running down the spine of this here reviewer so I was more than down to accept the invitation to check out the film last night. I’m glad I didn’t read or see anything about the film as what is bound to be its one good surprise would have been ruined by the trailers. So what did I think once all was spat and all the corpses had gone back to the dead? Let’s find out!
Let’s start with the positive. The cast holds up well, with Shay Mitchell (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) leading the charge as an ex-cop suffering from PTSD who takes the graveyard shift at her local morgue in an effort to stay off pills-n-booze following the death of her partner, which she was more than a little responsible for. Mitchell keeps our eyes on the screen and has an easy charm that was welcomed within the dark corridors of this flick. As for the rest of the cast, the movie is overly stocked with cannon fodder, um, I mean characters, but I enjoyed watching most of them, with highlights being Louis Herthum (WESTWORLD) as the grieving and possibly psycho father of the late Hannah Grace, Stana Katic as our heroine’s co-worker and AA sponsor (who can look SUPER creepy when the occasion arises), and Maximillian McNamara as the already creepy-looking ginger-fro security guard with a blossoming crush on Mitchell. No joke, the most effective jumpscare comes via this redhead – and it’s BEFORE he gets all “scary-looking.”
And let’s not forget Kirby Johnson as the titular Hannah Grace. To say too much about what her role entails would be spoiling one of the craziest aspects of the film, but all the same, the girl does more than just lay around all night. This little lady has more on the agenda than you might expect, and thankfully Johnson has the required contortionist skills to pull off the job once shit and fan meet. Another shout-out goes to Nick Thune who plays the bearded slacker EMT driver, Randy, who helps out our heroine here and there. The man looks like Adam Scott and A.J. Bowen had a lovechild, and his presence was always a breath of fresh air. I only wish he had been given more screentime. Truthfully, the only cast member that struck me as bland was Grey Damon as our heroine’s cop ex-boyfriend. But it’s like my mother says, if you’ve got nothing nice to say, move on. So let’s just move on.
Broad strokes, one thing that stuck out like pins and needles from the get-go was that this film really reminded me of the much more subtle and infinitely creepier THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. But that film sported the likes of Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch so let’s not hold it against this one. That said, this movie is ultimately going to suffer from studio interference, I think. Not in the content of the film necessarily, but in the marketing. The flick was originally called CADAVER (much better and more suitable title) but then was changed to the generic and rather boring THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE. What’s in a name though, right? Well, a lot considering that the film is a clever twist on exorcism movies, and by slapping it will such a generic “Possession” moniker, people are going to go in thinking it same old, same old. That MAY work in the audience and film’s favor, but I doubt it.
And speaking of what this film REALLY is, director Van Rooijen and screenwriter Brian Sieve drop the ball a bit here as the film is SCREAMING to be a rip-roaring cheese-fest of gothic horror silliness! But instead, Van Rooijen and Sieve decide to play it straight – ironically resulting in laughs from the audience. Someone like Sam Raimi would have embraced the inherent silliness of this walking, possessing, spewing corpse flick with the guts, gore, and gallows humor it requires. Such a shame. And on the subject of missed opportunities, another issue I had with the film was that (SPOILERS?) the first two acts seem to set up that the titular Hannah Grace can for lack of a better term “zombie-fy” people she’s super-murdered, but the third act does away with this plot development when it should have embraced it and given us a balls-to-the-wall finale. As is, the finale felt rushed and disposable.
Most of the issues I have with this film arise from Sieve’s screenplay. I’m probably only so hard on Sieve as I’m a fan following his work on MTV’s SCREAM: THE TV SERIES. But fan or not, this much is apparent, Sieve’s script has a killer hook and functions as an interesting twist on possession flicks we’ve seen time and time again, asking: “What happens AFTER the exorcism?” But the scene-to-scene, moment-to-moment execution of said killer plot is contrived, derivative, and underplayed. It tries to be THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE when it should have gone full DRAG ME TO HELL.
Overall, THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE is a clever twist on “Possession” movies that turns into a zombie slasher film by the third act. It could have been a truly killer midnight movie if someone along the line had embraced the utter insanity of the premise and swung for the horror-fences. As is, the final film is a letdown for hardcore horror fans, which seems to be its intended audience as the movie sports an R-rating. But all the same, a teen audience looking for an effective jump scare date movie with some originality tossed in will no doubt be delighted. But again, with it’s R-rating the movie may have cut off its own legs so to speak and stranded its target audiences outside of their local multiplex clutching their fake I.D.s. Oh, well.