Well done… even if they’re making up new rules.
Working through recent life events, Megan (Shay Mitchell) accepts a job at the Boston Memorial Hospital morgue, a graveyard-shift recommendation from her AA sponsor Lisa (Stana Katic). It’s quiet and lonely being the only person staffing the dungeon-like facility… a fact exacerbated when the burnt and battered unidentified corpse of a blue-eyed woman (Kirby Johnson) is delivered for cataloging. As equipment begins to glitch and clues fail to add up, Megan finds herself in the middle of mystery with either supernatural implications or her own descent into madness… or the worst case scenario: both.
Since 1973’s The Exorcist, the formula for possession films has been essentially locked: creepy contortions, religious connections, vulnerable hosts, and devilish deceptions. The trick has been to reinvent this tried-and-true formula to refresh the idea. Sometime these go off the rails badly like in this year’s The Nun (which borrows its ending from five-plus arguably better films) or grow inventive like in The Conjuring 2. The newest trend appears be post-mortem possession, often set in and around a morgue with a corpse the demon can’t ditch. Does Hannah Grace’s possession add anything new to this trend or rehash old hat?
The story here is eerily similar to The Autopsy of Jane Doe: minimal cast, isolated morgue, and a corpse that isn’t exactly decomposing. While Jane Doe was more cerebral and explored the whys, Hannah Grace goes beyond Exorcist spider-walk contortion and into LOTR Gollum territory to illustrate the how. A budget-conscious production, the effects appear chiefly practical or have done an excellent job of making them appear practical with few exceptions. What sets this genre tale apart from its peers is a penchant for not going in obvious directions; even the ending hints more at possibility than simply giving away the farm.
It’s no secret that the bag bad isn’t as dormant as everyone thinks; both films share an interesting mechanism for what drives their critters. Jane Doe clearly had a more thought-out premise and explanation, something Grace may be saving for the inevitable sequel should the film find its box-office footing. Where Grace excels is keeping the focus on the main character rather than the monster, using background and character development to build dread instead of uncovering the monster’s history. There are even a few instances of misdirection and anticipatory reward, so you can tell the filmmakers are fans of the genre, not just throwing this out there.
Commenting again on the budget, the CGI end elements could have used some extra love, not to mention how something that creepily cricks when it moves not only gets around very quickly but also moves things… things not easily or quietly moved. The cast is lighthearted as needed and just self-aware enough, lending to the fun. Too bad Halloween was so crowded with mediocre monster flicks this year; Hannah Grace would have been far preferred over Sony Pictures dumping Slender Man upon an unsuspecting and underwhelmed audience.
The Possession of Hannah Grace is rated R for gruesome images and terror throughout and criminally underutilizing Stana Katic; she could have at least called Rick Castle in on this one.
Three skull recommendation out of four
Yes, I know this is getting hammered by other critics, but here’s the thing: many if not most critics aren’t fans of the horror genre to begin with… and that’s cool. Having watched as much as I have — and I grade a little harder than most — this film does a lot with very little. The timing of an early December release as counter-programming is a more than a little weird, but this is infinitely better than Sony’s Slender Man.