Very rarely do I enjoy possession films and for the most part, I avoid films with the generic moniker of "The Possession of" or "The Haunting of" in the title. But while writing some coverage for The Possession of Hannah Grace I ended up checking out the trailer, and despite my general disinterest in the subgenre, I found myself intrigued by the film's rather apparent blending of two of my recent favorite horror movies, The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Late Shift.
The Possession of Hannah Grace follows Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell), a former cop who's been struggling with addiction ever since her partner was gunned down in the line of duty. Fresh out of rehab, Megan takes the graveyard shift in a city hospital morgue in hopes that a new routine and some peace and quiet will help her overcome past trauma. During one of her shifts, Megan takes in the disfigured corpse of a young woman named Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), and soon after, she realizes that this mangled body is no ordinary cadaver. Locked alone (for the most part) inside the hospital's basement corridors, Megan begins to experience terrifying visions and violent events that lead her to believe the body is possessed by a demonic force.
I'll get straight to one of my biggest gripes, Screen Gems decision to retitle the film, which was shot under the title Cadaver, possibly thinking they were doing the film a favor by making it seem like an exorcism film. This honestly does the film a huge disservice, as it's much more than that, and if not for seeing the trailer, I would've written Hannah Grace off as another generic cog in the possession wheel. Additionally, The Possession of Hannah Grace is a somewhat misleading title, being that the first five minutes are the ones that feature anything pertaining to an exorcism or possession fare.
Other than the title (a petty complaint, I know), I certainly enjoyed my time with Hannah Grace. Since the film's theatrical release, I've seen it torn to shreds by critics, and I'm here to say that the movie is definitely undeserving of all the hate. Perhaps I'm too lenient when it comes to horror, or maybe most critics have just become far too pretentious to even enjoy themselves at the movies anymore.
Let's cover the positive aspects Hannah Grace offers. The cast all turn in great performances, especially Mitchell and Johnson. Mitchell is relatable and charming as Megan, and her performance as an ex-cop struggling with PTSD helped elevate the film's story quite a bit. Dancer/contortionist Kirby Johnson deserves the utmost praise for her skillful portrayal of the titular character Hannah Grace. Her almost inhuman physical capabilities really sell the character with uncanny, painful movements that are insanely impressive as there's little to no need for CGI enhancement.
I also enjoyed the majority of the supporting cast, with highlights being Louis Herthum ("Westworld") as Hannah's grieving and slightly psychotic father, Maximillian McNamara as the goofball security guard and comic relief, Stana Katic ("Castle") as our Megan's co-worker and AA sponsor, and Nick Thune (Venom) as a friendly ambulance driver named Randy, who helps Megan cope with adjusting to the job and was a breath of fresh air when appearing on screen.
I'd also like to offer praise to production designer Paula Loos, the concrete maze of a morgue exudes unpleasantness, even without reanimated corpses wandering the corridors. Last and certainly not least, major kudos to head makeup artist Adrien Morot, whose excellent prosthetic work on Hannah Grace, including ultra realistic slash wounds and burns, is truly something to admire.
Onto some other issues I had with the movie. Aside from the aforementioned title swap, tends to play it safe and tread worn ground rather than embracing its unique elements. There are plenty of great ideas at work, but it all feels borrowed from other films, most notably the two I mentioned at the beginning of the review. I also found it rather annoying when certain characters denied Megan's claims of strange happenings, even after being shown convincing evidence that a corpse is creeping around. I understand that the horror genre has its share of tropes to follow, but if I was shown video surveillance of a supposed dead chick "Regan spider-walking" her way through the halls, I'd promptly leave the premises. Unfortunately, the third act did seem to abandon plot development, ending things with a somewhat restrained and generic finale.
Overall, director Diederick van Rooijen delivers a solid, effectively chilling and relatively clever take on the possession subgenre with The Possession of Hannah Grace. Though, given the film sports and R-rating, I do wish the opportunity to seize utter insanity would've been taken. Regardless, Hannah Grace contains enough redeeming qualities to deserve better than being written off as just another ho-hum possession flick.
The Possession of Hannah Grace is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.