Studio: Sony Pictures
Director: Jeff Chan
Writer: Jeff Chan, Chris Pare, Peter Huang
Producer: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Chris Ferguson
Stars: Alexia Fast, Lin Shaye, Alan Dale, Alexis Knapp, Brett Dier, Joel David Moore, Clarke Peters
On the eve of her first day at college, a young woman becomes possessed by the same evil entity that consumed her mother.
Grace Hill was born under auspicious circumstances that saw her mother Mary cursing God, being confronted by a demonic presence, and ultimately dying during a bloody childbirth. Wearing the demure dress of a dairy farmer’s daughter and clutching a bible under one arm, Grace now enters her eighteenth year as a wide-eyed university freshman seeing the world for the first time. The formerly sheltered young girl experiments with alcohol, crushes on a boy, and goes about the normal life of an average college coed. Or it would be normal, if not for the demon haunting her dreams and appearing in mirrored reflections.
Grace finds herself gradually consumed by the same evil entity that previously corrupted her mother. All Grace’s devout Catholic grandma sees is a child in need of strict discipline. But as devilish visions transform into real-world horrors, everyone soon comes to realize that the only way to separate Grace from her inner demon is a good old-fashioned exorcism.
Sweet, innocent virgin with an “oh gosh!” attitude that rivals Dorothy Gale’s. God-fearing grandmother with a fire and brimstone mentality to give Carrie White’s mother a run for her money. Optimistic young clergyman and sullen old priest doing their best impressions of Fathers Karras and Merrin. Story-wise, everything “Grace: The Possession” has to offer is something all horror fans have seen before. What no one has seen before however, is this familiar tale of a devil within framed with offbeat and intriguing style.
Like the Humphrey Bogart-starrer “Dark Passage” or the “Maniac” remake with Elijah Wood (review here), “Grace: The Possession” plays from the main character’s point of view. The entire movie is seen through Grace’s eyes, though technically the audience is seeing things from her demon’s perspective, as a pair of clever bookend sequences depicts moments when the essence transfers.
Oftentimes, lost in the woods or haunted asylum thrillers inspire the out loud question, “why does this have to be found footage?” Although not technically “found footage,” “Grace” is a clear case where employment of a first-person format elevates a straightforward screenplay into a genuinely different entertainment experience.
There is an inherent Catch-22 when a freshman director makes a debut film. Sticking to a simple script is in his/her best interest as far as not biting off more than experience can chew goes. Except then the result is a paint-by-numbers project drawing more yawns than yelps from an audience hungry for fresher thrills.
With so many rote elements and predictable plot beats, there is no doubt at all that “Grace” would have been an outright dud if done traditionally. Aided by crafty camera design from cinematographer Norm Li, first time feature filmmaker Jeff Chan instead cancels out clichés through inventive presentation.
Li and Chan have a good time experimenting with the format, which translates into fun for the viewer, too. While trim-worthy fat exists in the form of excessive mirror moping and not-so-hot exposition, “Grace” cashes in on ample opportunities to wring great gags from the POV perspective. Hair brushes away from the lens as Grace does the same for her face in the mirror. The camera jiggles moderately while Grace vigorously brushes her teeth. Quick focus blurs stand in for eye blinks. The touches are terrific and they make “Grace” a highly engaging watch for the formatting alone.
Also offering a boost to the production is a fine supporting cast of welcome faces. Clarke Peters of “The Wire” and “Treme” takes a turn as a devil-banishing bishop. Joel David Moore and TV villain Alan Dale play the pair of priests. And Lin Shaye channels her best Piper Laurie as Grace’s overbearing grandmother.
Some characterizations are developed oddly, particularly the grandmother vacillating between seemingly in the know about whatever satanic skullduggery consumed her own daughter and willfully oblivious to every troublesome warning sign exhibited by Grace. These aren’t the most robust performances this talent pool has ever committed to film. But that has more to do with embodying plot-advancing stereotypes and the likely unusualness of working opposite a camera instead of another actor.
The content may be too routine to impress, but delivery makes up the difference. While the first-person POV is a gimmick, it is one that makes “Grace: The Possession” unfold in a memorable manner. This is how creative filmmakers mold meh material into a movie that audiences will talk about after, regardless of how they may have felt about the film itself.
Review Score: 65