Review: Some Attempts at Breathing New Life into an Old Genre Give THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE Merit

Theatrical release: 11/30/18

Home release: 2/19/19

The demonic possession/exorcism sub-genre of horror is well travelled by now, being an evergreen well for story tellers in all mediums. Unfortunately for some, it does come with a high watermark thanks to one particularly famous film which will go unnamed (but you know what it is). It is a difficult undertaking to try and find new ground to tread, and straying from the standard formula can be risky. For all the clamoring of wanting something new, fans know there is value to be found in the familiar. To their credit, those behind Sony & Screen Gems The Possession of Hannah Grace  tried to approach the subject matter from a different angle.

Working from a script by Brian Sieve (Teen Wolf, Boogeyman 2) and directed by Diederik Van Rooijen (Daylight, Taped) the film sets itself apart from the majority of its peers by shifting focus from exorcism to the actual possession (they give that away right in the title). This small shift in perspective is successful in setting Hannah Grace apart from movies you might think to compare it to. What follows is not the story of an innocent girl possessed by devilish forces struggling to overcome evil and free herself, but rather the horror she rains down upon innocent and unrelated bystanders.

The story follows Megan, played by Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars), a former police officer who has been recovering from trauma and substance abuse, as she starts a new job in the city morgue. Upon the delivery of a mysterious cadaver, Megan begins to experience strange happenings over the course of the night as she attempts to uncover the story behind this supposedly recently deceased individual.

Admittedly the movie doesn’t hit all it’s goals, however while it may fall short in some of the execution, it succeeds a lot in concept. Small scale horror has always been a favorite of mine and The Possession of Hannah Grace is a callback to the that classic feeling. Much of the movie takes place in the claustrophobic morgue basement featuring tight corridors and small rooms, the cast is as minimal as possible and the risks are high for them. Van Rooijen takes advantage of the setting and the atmosphere and some of the better off putting moments in the film stem from this. There is also the fact that the filmmakers trust the audience to be experienced enough with these types of films to not feel the need to spell everything out for the audience, and doesn’t burden us with an unnecessary backstory about the possession, leaving some mystery intact. As tends to happen with horror movies, the third act leans into more action that one might like, but frequently this is a necessary for these types of movies. And without giving anything away, the conclusion to the final confrontation was a pleasant spin on tradition and possibly my favorite part of the film.

Over all, The Possession of Hannah Grace is a clean, well produced and simple horror film that feels like a throwback to classics while at the same time attempting a different narrative lens to a heavily visited sub-genre. It may stumble in some places along the way but there is value here for fans of possession stories.