By: Hawk Ripjaw (Six Pack) –
Felix Felicis politely asked me to trade reviews this month and for me to acquire The Possession of Hannah Grace, since she stays away from contorting body horror movies, understandably. Being completely desensitized thanks to the legendarily gnarly body-contortion sequence in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, I agreed. Because I’m a good friend.
But then I was like: what if this sucks?
Narrator: “It did.”
Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop recovering from addiction and the grief of her partner’s death after she failed to react to a violent suspect. As part of her recovery, she has been accepted for the graveyard shift at a morgue. The job is simple: accept the cadavers, fingerprint and photograph them, and put them in the cooler. She spends most of the evening along in the morgue, save for the occasional visit from an awkwardly flirty security guard (Max McNamara) and Megan’s AA sponsor Lisa (Stana Katic).
The morgue’s latest intake is the dead body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson). Hannah Grace was possessed by a powerful demon, and when the exorcism was failing, Hannah’s father killed her. The demon is still trapped in Hannah’s body, and is eyeing a new host in Megan.
The Possession of Hannah Grace has an excellent setting working for it. The cold, grey sterility of the morgue is creepy and claustrophobic and immediately sets the nerves on edge. Everything is shown to be motion activated–a clever bit of setup that pays off when noisy appliances and overhead lights suddenly click on in the background of shots, signaling something moving around back there. If the entire movie was that focused on atmospheric unease, this could have been awesome.
Nick Thune plays an EMT named Randy and has more personality than the rest of the cast combined.
This is a mainstream horror movie in 2018, which means that the lion’s share of actual “horror” is jump scares. Nearly all of these are heavily telegraphed and predictably timed down to the second, making the scenes less wondering if something is going to jump out and more being able to know precisely when it’ll happen. Worse, the fake jump scare is still on present in full force—you know, the loud jolt that ends up being harmless. There are more than enough of those here, but there is a very funny one involving the security guard suddenly and dramatically popping up from behind the freezer door to say hi, exactly like no normal human being would ever do.
In fact, some of the ways the jump scares are edited just don’t make sense in the context of the movie’s world. For example, look at the scene in the trailer in which Megan is in the restroom and the rubber band ball rolls towards her followed by an arm reaching out and grabbing it for a jump scare. In the movie, Megan sees the ball and then leans down to look underneath the stall. She sees nothing, but then we get the side shot of the arm grabbing it. This is startling for the audience but if Hannah was standing there to grab the ball, Megan would have seen her while she was looking underneath the stall.
There are a handful of jump scares like this where the character should really be able to see the source of the scare. But the movie willfully ignores that in favor of a brief pan and a blast of sound to jolt the audience again. Of note, this movie is very loud, and not in a good way. This year’s A Quiet Place had sound mixing that felt impactful. The Possession of Hannah Grace has a hand dryer that’s startling because the sound mixing cranks it up to a ludicrous level. Although to be fair, the dryer is one of those “feel like the fucking Space Shuttle Discovery is taking off above your palms” ones that were prevalent a few years ago.
Logic doesn’t appear to factor much into the script for The Possession of Hannah Grace. One of the biggest lapses comes with the plot reveal that Hannah is killing supporting characters that journey into the morgue to repair her battered corpse, but every time Megan runs back to the cadaver it is still where she left it. That means that somehow, Hannah is crawling around the morgue, including successfully operating elevators, then racing back to her main resting spot before Megan notices anything. Quite apart from how she’s doing this, there really isn’t any reason for it. Also unexplored is why Hannah doesn’t even attack Megan for nearly the entire movie. She kills other characters, but mostly ignores or occasionally rattles Megan. One could infer that Hannah is “softening her up” to make her more vulnerable for possession, but that’s more of a viewer’s logical thinking than the film’s logical setup.
The themes of anxiety, depression, and addiction feature heavily, but they never tie into the demonic possession angle. This is problematic because there’s an implication that the demon is something of an allegory. Hannah Grace is said to have been deeply depressed and anxious, and Megan is still recovering from addiction and is haunted by the memory of failing her partner. At one point, when trying to prove the existence of a cadaver walking around the morgue, she’s told that her brain is trying to trick her into seeing things to get back on pills. So there’s a bit of setup making the demon more symbolic and possibly not even physically real, but the movie is more interested in standard horror move scares than headier psychological themes, ending with a flat, action-oriented climax.
Finally, it’s just not scary. It’s hardly even tense. While frightening things do happen to the characters, the dramatic energy never elevates beyond the cold claustrophobia of the morgue. This is partly because save for Randy the EMT, none of these people are particularly likable. There’s not really any reason to fear for them or want to see what happens, so when a character dies it’s little more than a slight uptick in the movie’s energy. These characters exist to be kill off, and again, save for Randy, have no sense of any discernible arc. They get killed, everyone knew it was going to happen, and the movie continues blankly onward.
The Possession of Hannah Grace has a couple of inspired ideas languishing in a boring, unpleasant, and undercooked movie as a whole. As a “post-exorcism” movie, it has an interesting idea of what would happen if a demon continued to animate a corpse after a ritual failed. The environment of the morgue, with its multitude of motion-activated devices, is ripe for good tension. The themes of addiction and recovery are compatible with those of possession if played right. But every good concept the movie introduces is thrown out in favor of a much blander, rote horror picture that fails to stir up any actual scares. It’s not even memorably or interestingly bad. It’s just a VOD-caliber, forgettable generic movie that will be forgotten by this time next month.
I’d say I regret making that trade with Felix, but in exchange she had to review Robin Hood, and there’s no way this was that bad.
The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time Hannah kills someone.
Take a Drink: for every jump scare.
Take a Drink: every time something suspicious turns out to be nothing.