Most possession flicks end with the exorcism: a mostly triumphant banishing of the thing that’s been bumping in the night and swaying innocent girls away from Puritanical gender norms. (Are there possession films where the demons inhabit boys? Evil Dead and The Amityville Horror are all that come to mind for me, but let me know any I’m missing in the comments.) The Possession of Hannah Grace flips that, opening with the title character’s exorcism. Things go south. She drives one priest’s head through a spike and before she can kill a second, her father smothers her.
From there, our main character enters. Megan (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop fighting alcoholism and the traumata of her partner’s death. She’s taken on the night shift in the morgue to avoid drinking. The film follows the exorcism and the opening credits with Megan’s first day. Director Diederik Van Rooijen sets up a terrifying setting. The lights are on motion detectors. The alarm that signals the arrival of the freshly deceased is loud enough to scare Megan and the audience out of their collective seats. Best of all, Megan is going to be there alone. It’s a terrifying setup.
The catch is, almost everything that’s good about that setting was done better two years ago in André Øvredal’s excellent The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s possible that Van Rooijen and writer Brian Sieve had been working on The Possession of Hannah Grace long before they’d seen or heard of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Maybe they still haven’t seen it, though it seems unlikely that someone working in horror could’ve missed it. But as someone who’s seen both, it’s difficult not to compare them, in the same way it’s difficult to separate Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Intentional or not, The Possession of Hannah Grace shares its DNA with a better movie that came out two years earlier.
They really start to converge when Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson) is brought into the morgue. Good makeup combined with Johnson’s contortions make for a freaky monster, but one that doesn’t follow any sort of logic. In the opening, Hannah Grace kills with force powers. She points her arms at people, and they levitate. She flings them around without touching them. As the movie progresses though, her modus operandi completely changes. She drops the force powers in favor of close range attacks. Either is scary, but having one character do both without an explanation as to why is confusing. Imagine if Freddy Krueger randomly poisoned someone’s food outside of the dream world halfway through A Nightmare in Elm Street. Movies get to set their own rules, but they need to obey them.
She’s inconsistent in other ways too. She force throws one of her victims across the room only to slowly levitate him back. After each kill, she returns to the morgue. Her resting makes sense, but sleeping next to the crematorium when people are trying to burn you makes no sense.
And then there are the living humans. After a break in results in one security guard being slashed and the night attendant of the morgue being knocked flat, the hospital does nothing. When that same intruder gets loose, the hospital does nothing. No extra security called in. No cops running extra patrols. No visit from the morgue manager to check on Megan. Neither the hospital nor the staff nor the police adjust their behaviors after the assault. Horror movies take a bad rap because of characters like this.
It ends with my least favorite modern horror trope: a character who has suffered a traumatic event is healed by suffering ten times as much trauma. We contacted mental health professional Jack Burgos to see if that was at all feasible and he said, “No.”
On the bright side, the special features are fun. The disc includes deleted scenes, “An Autopsy of Hannah,” “Megan’s Diaries,” and “Killer Cast.” The best being “Killer Cast,” wherein Kirby Johnson shows off her contortions and how they accentuate the makeup. It’s gross as hell!
The Possession of Hannah Grace is available on digital platforms now. It’ll be released on Blu-ray and DVD February 26th.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director: Diederik Van Rooijen
Writer: Brian Sieve
Stars: Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, and Stana Katic
Release: February 26th, 2019 (Blu-ray and DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Broken Road Productions, Screen Gems
Length: 86 minutes