Possession has become one of the most overused tropes in horror films over the years and honestly many movies do utilize the cliché quite well. So well in fact I did a whole list on it leading into this weekend which you can read here. However, it has been a while since we’ve seen a genre piece that even remotely tries to do something different or unique with the premise. From the previews it looked like “The Possession of Hannah Grace” was going to break that trend and offer a different spin on the potential of possession. The setting seemed neat and there was a lot of promise for suspense and great horror thrills. But it’s still a horror movie which means there shouldn’t be heavy expectation for anything more than simple genre flair right? Well I got to check out the movie for myself with it being a slow weekend in theaters and I’m ready to give my take. Does “The Possession of Hannah Grace” really offer something new or is it just another typical horror flick that phones it in for simple thrills? Let’s find out. This is my review of “The Possession of Hannah Grace”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“The Possession of Hannah Grace” follows ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) who suffers from PTSD after her partner was killed in action. Her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Lisa (Stana Katic) helps her get a job as a morgue in Boston working the night shift by herself. One night a body comes into the morgue of a young woman named Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson) and strange occurrences start happening including a man breaking in a trying to burn the body and the door of the body’s containment opening on its own. Megan soon realizes that there is more to Hannah than meets the eye as she must figure out a way to stop an evil force from collecting victims and setting Hannah loose on the world.
Right off the bat I’ll say I did enjoy the atmosphere of “The Possession of Hannah Grace”. Most of the film takes place in the confines of a morgue in a Boston hospital which makes for an ubber-creepy setting for any horror film. Surprisingly morgues are relatively underutilized from my experience and it was nice to see a movie use the backdrop as the full-on setting for the action. While there’s not a lot of great things about “The Possession of Hannah Grace” I did think it at least tried to make the best of its unique setting. It felt claustrophobic with high tension and an ever present fear of the unknown. While this movie fails in a lot of ways to live up to its potential, I can’t say it didn’t have me on edge. For much of the movie “The Possession of Hannah Grace” had me anxiously awaiting the next jump scare and weird occurrence and while the scares didn’t live up to the anticipation I will say I had fun in that cheesy “look out behind you” sort of way where many people seem to find joy even in the simplest of horror offerings and it’s all thanks to the creative backdrop that I wish more movies would use. Personally, I hope this film starts a trend and we DO see more films make better use of an already creepy setting that you’d think would be its own cliché by now. Can you imagine a found footage movie set in a morgue? MAKE THIS HAPPEN HOLLYWOOD!
While the acting overall is basic at best another surprisingly good aspect of this film for me was how much I cared about the fate of the characters. Almost everyone who becomes a target of the evil force in this film has some kind of redeemable backstory or personality trait that made me wish they would survive. Sure it might be a simple attempt at pandering to the viewer’s emotions but compared to the rest of this film it’s at least SOMETHING that left an impact on me. One thing I always look for in a horror film is whether or not I can sympathize with the victims because all too often the characters are nameless drones that you couldn’t care less if they die as long as it’s fun. Here not only are the death scenes decently entertaining in terms of the brutality and the buildup, we’re also given enough to want these people to find a way to survive which makes the stakes higher and in turn makes the experience that much more fun and easier to invest in. For all the flaws that “The Possession of Hannah Grace” contains it’s more than willing to make good people suffer which, as sadistic as it sounds, helps make it a much more entertaining product than it has any right being.
I do have to say the design of Hannah Grace both physically and as a character is pretty cool. She’s by far one of the most creative aspects of this movie and “The Possession of Hannah Grace” does deserve some credit for trying new things as much as they fail to shine in the end. I’ll touch on that more in a second, but this movie does deserve to be acknowledged for at least making an attempt at expanding on the mythology of possession and giving us a legitimately creepy antagonist to fear throughout the movie. I did find Hannah to be a legitimately threatening and spooky paranormal antagonist and since many believe a villain makes a horror movie I can’t go without complimenting the design and approach or the performance by Kirby Johnson in the titular role who is by far the best performer on screen, for better or worse.
Unfortunately, that’s where the solid positives end and the negatives begin. To start there are a few elements of “The Possession of Hannah Grace” that do stand out but are underused or forsaken in a clear attempt to give audiences what the filmmakers thought they wanted and not what they needed from a possession story. For example, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” does try to add to the mythology of possession by introducing some new elements including regeneration and the need to kill to survive, but this is wasted on a bland story that makes these new elements more of a motivation to kill than a unique interpretation of how possession works. Speaking of killing while the death scenes are brutal and entertaining in many cases, they’re nothing we haven’t seen before. After you see so many people floating in the air and the use of telekinesis in numerous other past films it becomes awfully predictable and while there are shades of a more creative idea behind “The Possession of Hannah Grace” it still leans on the same horror thrills and clichés of the past to drive home the terror.
That’s pretty much this movie’s biggest flaw. While it does at least TRY to be different it doesn’t go all in and thus anything unique about it becomes watered down. The filmmakers decided to play it safe and stick with the formula that has worked so many times before when it’s clear this story was built to be much more inspired than that. I obviously don’t know what the creative process was behind this film but as a viewer it feels like the filmmakers are holding back, presenting glimpses of much better ideas than what they settled for. What I hoped would be a unique and atmospheric horror movie only got half of that equation right and even the atmosphere isn’t as effective as it should be because there’s not a good enough story or enough truly effective scary moments to make it count. You can see every scare coming a mile away and the only thing that makes the death scenes interesting is the higher stakes because we can feel for the characters as people thrust into a situation they neither asked for nor deserved. As entertaining as the deaths are they’re still the same old song and dance we’ve seen so many times in the past. The rest of the movie is pretty paint by numbers horror flair to the point where in the third act it actually feels like the filmmakers have given up as shoddy editing gives the impression that they just wanted it to be done already.
I’ll close out with commentary on the acting. There’s nothing special here. The material isn’t great, and it is a credit to the performers that they manage to create relatable people we can sympathize with even with a shoddy, cliché script. But that’s the problem is even with decent acting it’s hard for anyone to stand out in the long run when the writers don’t even try. A lot of this film falls on the shoulders of Shay Mitchell too in the starring role who makes the best of what she’s given but is still nothing special in the grand scheme of things. It’s clear that the writers did try to make the characters stand out giving them each their own charming personalities and even vices that, again, help us sympathize with them but there’s no room for the actors to put their own touch on the characters. Everything we know about them is written into the script without an ounce of nuance. The result is a group of wooden horror must-haves that you may want to see survive but leave no impact once the credits role.
Despite it’s attempts to try something new with the possession horror trope “The Possession of Hannah Grace” is really nothing special. It has some moments and aspects that shine but anything worth watching with this movie has much more potential than what we actually get. I do give the film credit for making me want to see the characters survive and for giving us a truly creepy antagonist but there needs to be more meat on the bone for a horror film like this to stand out and there just isn’t. In the end this movie feels like an inspired story that just wasn’t seen through properly and settles for what has always worked before when the filmmakers should have put more focus on the new ideas they brought to the table. As much as it wants to stand out and be unique “The Possession of Hannah Grace” sadly falls into the background and is a mostly cliche mess with glimmers of uniqueness that is better left ignored.