The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018)
★ / ★★★★
It seems that every year an exorcism or demonic possession movie is released and it is called “The Possession of [insert name here].” They are so forgettable, one can take random scenes from these movies, shuffle them around, and I wouldn’t be able to tell which scene came from which picture. What they have in common is a lack of originality, a strong vision, and an execution so defined that common tropes can come across fresh in the moment of experiencing the story. “Hannah Grace,” written by Brian Sieve and directed by Diederik van Rooijen, is no exception. It had a budget of around 8 million dollars. It made 43 million. No wonder they keep making more of the same.
Despite an awful, CGI-heavy pre-title sequence that involves an exorcism gone wrong, I remained open to being entertained. The protagonist is named Megan (Shay Mitchell), a former cop with a recent history of drug addiction. She turned to chemicals to escape the guilt of her inability to protect her partner while on the job which resulted in his demise. Mitchell approaches the character, who had just gotten out of rehab, with a convincing level of solemnity and so I wanted to know more about her. It helps that the manner in which the performer walks and talks is similar to that of law enforcement. But facing criminals is one thing. How would she fare—or could she fare?—when faced with the supernatural?
And so we follow her get hooked up with a job in the Boston Metro Hospital as an overnight intake assistant, a person who receives corpses from ambulances and takes the bodies for further processing (taking photographs, scanning fingerprints, and the like). I enjoyed that we get a quick tour of the position and so we have an idea what is required of Megan when she is left on her own from 11 at night to 7 in the morning. She works in a morgue—down in the basement—and so there is an inherent creepiness to the place. It is only a matter of time until Megan is handed the body of a girl we see “die” in first scene (Kirby Johnson).
This is when the picture goes downhill at an alarming rate. Although we get the opportunity to get close to the cadaver possessed by evil, not one scene holds a candle against André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”—where the body in question is also not just a body. Sure, we see Hannah’s contorted figure, deep lacerations and bruises on her body, including an ominous blue color on her irises (Hannah’s natural eye color is brown), but none of these details are especially curious or chilling. van Rooijen employs the camera as is instead of using it as a device to tell a story of this body on a platter.
The corpse is provided telekinetic powers. (This is shown during the opening scene.) You read that correctly. It is not a joke. It’s a mistake to give the antagonist this ability—especially when Hannah can already crawl on walls and ceilings as if she were Spider-man. It’s simply too much. So instead of being horrified, we laugh at the movie crossing the line. And because our laughter does not come from a place of catharsis, we grow increasingly disconnected from the film. By the time the third act—as badly conceived as it is—rolls around, we no longer care what will happen. We’ve checked out.
“The Possession of Hannah Grace” and its ilk do not understand the value of restraint. There must always be something jumping from the darkness, or a creepy crawler coming out of a crevice, or a deafening score is used at the tiniest hint of something unexpected. One gets the impression that these writers and directors have not done the most basic homework: studying elements that make William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” so thoroughly effective and finding ways to improve upon them.