Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Diederik Van Rooijen
Writer: Brian Sieve
Producer: Todd Garner, Sean Robins
Stars: Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Nick Thune, Louis Herthum, Stana Katic, Max McNamara, Jacob Ming-Trent, James A. Watson Jr.
An ex-cop recovering from addiction encounters a cursed corpse while working the night shift alone in a hospital morgue.
A stale scene, the first of many, starts “The Possession of Hannah Grace.” The titular possessee violently thrashes, painfully contorts, and spews verbal venom while tied to a bed. Two priests splash holy water, thrust fists clenching crucifixes, and recite bible rites at either side. Louis Herthum, Hollywood’s go-to guy for fathers of daughters dominated by other entities (see also “Westworld” and his déjà vu role in “The Last Exorcism” - review here), looks on with wide-eyed worry.
Things go exactly as one would expect, which is true of “Hannah Grace” as a whole. The exorcism goes awry and several people die, including the young woman with “The Devil Inside” (review here), to name-drop another blood relative of the movie at hand.
Fast-forward three months to the first clip from a Nike commercial introducing ex-cop Megan. A little later, she’ll pound the pavement in a jogging montage that establishes her dogged determination as well as the Boston backdrop. More immediately, Megan pounds a heavy bag with frustrated ferocity, which is common “screen speak” for saying, “this woman is tough, but also eager to exorcise inner demons.” This stone kills a second bird by putting Megan on a thematic parallel with Hannah.
Megan has been putting her life back on track since the guilt-giving murder of her police partner. Step One was actually twelve. Addiction after the incident spun Megan down a spiral ending in AA. Luckily, her sponsor Lisa works as a nurse at a local hospital and hooks up Megan with a new job as the morgue’s lone intake assistant.
Dr. Lewis shows Megan the ropes. He also shows her where upcoming scares and action beats will take place by pointing out that Megan cannot use elevators or doors without a keycard, automatic lights operate on a sensor, the access bay is for drop-offs only, etc.
Hang on, stay in your seats. The bell hasn’t rung on obligatory introductions just yet. More stereotyping must take place before Megan and Hannah can finally meet.
Current cop and former flame Andrew coincidentally stops by Megan’s apartment to pick up his things while putting down more exposition. Back at the hospital, two security guards fill out the rest of the night shift staff. Curly-haired Dave entertains himself by blowing up a surgical glove like a balloon so we know he is the likable little lug of the pair. Ernie can barely be bothered to look up from his newspaper (people still read those?), setting him up as the lazily disinterested one.
A personable EMT eventually drops off “The Corpse of Anna Fritz” (review here). Whoops, I mean the corpse of Hannah Grace. The more of these cursed cadaver movies that exist, the harder they are to keep straight.
It’s been three months since Hannah died, but she’s in oddly decent shape for a body that was found being sliced in an alley by a derelict. Even odder, as Megan’s second night in the hospital morgue moves forward, more corpses are created while Hannah’s appears to be growing strangely stronger.
Once “The Possession of Hannah Grace” gets up to full speed, which isn’t a particularly brisk pace, it becomes a standard spookshow of one woman flinching at sudden sounds, shapes, and shadows. Marvel as Megan speeds up and slows down security footage so she can pause on an eerie image accompanied by a “dun!” Thrill as she cracks a computer using her ex-boyfriend’s password (it’s her name) to gather more backstory. And watch in wonder as people slowly stalk hallways asking “hello?” out loud because the solo story requires a lot of talking to one’s self.
“The Possession of Hannah Grace” contains more setups than it reasonably needs. One unnecessarily thorough scene of Megan on a toilet features an unusual number of camera angles, including an insert of underwear pulled down to her ankles. I get the feeling the crew was so rightfully unimpressed with the written material, they kept coming up with more movements to make during dry sequences simply to have something to do.
Horror fandom debates relentlessly about PG-13 versus R ratings. “Hannah Grace” provides a prime example of an R rating adding no quantifiable value. Kills are composed of drawn-out scenes where Hannah lures victims into dark corridors only to kill them in the same boring way of supernaturally twisting their bodies. We know someone is slated for the chopping block as soon as they step off alone. We even know approximately what each death will look like based on plentiful foreshadowing. So where is suspense supposed to come from?
While they’re at it, “The Possession of Hanna Grace” squanders a solid cast too. Shay Mitchell, Stana Katic, Nick Thune, and Louis Herthum only have to put proven talents on cruise control to sail through simplicity here. The testament to their collective charisma is the fact that I’d rather see more of Megan’s soap opera side story about overcoming addiction than the ho-hum haunting occupying most of the movie. In the meantime, the unwatered seed of Megan’s mental breakdown never sprouts into anything substantially relevant, unless the tired tangent of “is this all in her head?” counts.
Timing isn’t quite to film releases what location is to real estate, but it matters quite a bit. Par for a Screen Gems 9-holer, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” suffers from being purposefully manufactured as milquetoast media for mainstream consumption. Such unoriginality leaves it ridiculously redundant as a paranormal exorcism thriller, in turn making it way late to a posthumous possession party already won decidedly by “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” (review here).
Review Score: 40