The Possession of Hannah Grace (*1/2) is still pretty dead

The Possession of Hannah Grace – 2018

Director Diederik van Rooijen
Screenplay Brian Sieve
Starring Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Stana Katic, Nick Thune, Kirby Johnson

The Possession of Hannah Grace starts off with an original premise. What happens to the body after someone is possessed to the point of death? We’ve seen the issue discussed somewhat before in The Exorcist III in the character of Father Damien Karras.  Really though, the demon had moved on by that point.

This time, the demon stays in the body of one Hannah Grace. Why is this? The film doesn’t ponder that idea. Perhaps the reason it stays so close to the flesh is so we can see what happens isn’t all that challenging to comprehend. Sieve’s script is not really interested in going more than skin deep.

Three months after the death of young Hanna (Johnson), we see Megan Reed (Mitchell, of Pretty Little Liars) getting a job at the morgue. We shouldn’t really care why she’s there, beyond setting up constants for us to see made variable later. That we’re forced to know she’s an ex-cop and recovering addict should be enough. When we discover her ever downward path began when she allowed her partner to get shot, we have a pretty good idea how the story should conclude.

We get exactly one day for Megan to become acclimatized to her new position before we see her bored, bouncing a rubber band ball she created off of the wall. This becomes a sound we hear too many times in the future for something that carries no amount of fear with it. On her second day, she’s brought the freshly cut and partially burned corpse of Hannah Grace. That the body is so old to look so fresh is supposed to be a unknown to Megan and a mysterious surprise to the viewer.

Megan goes through steps to try to register the body and enter prints into the system. All equipment used to do so fails. If this isn’t enough to spook her, there’s a “homeless guy” who is attempting to break into the morgue. We soon find out why and for sake of entertainment, it’s easy to wish that we hadn’t.

The script and its direction take some decent ideas and give them the blandest possible twist. Think of Hellraiser on a slab and you pretty much have the plot from here. One can surmise the reasons for following familiar tropes, but still be disappointed at the choices.

Having an older, longtime morgue employee with minimal backstory would be more interesting character on whom to pick. Someone equally but differently malicious and with no connection to the rest of the story trying to break in would create a more interesting diversion.

When no diversions beyond the expected happen, it leaves the viewer to wonder things. Why is there a bed in the middle of the church? Why would a demon want a body when they seem to be more powerful without them? How does someone (Katic) who was co-lead on the relatively successful show Castle ended up being given the relatively modest role of friend and AA Sponsor? How come two security guards can’t ever check cameras? Why can’t a relatively large guy like Randy (Thune) push a cadaver cart himself from the ambulance when he already has it out and wheels ready? How does a demon steal the soul of a ginger when they have no soul to begin with? Does the guy next to me want to hit me when I say “Dave’s Not Here…” every time someone calls out his name?

There is absolutely nothing special about any of the performances. That everyone except for Max McNamara seem to be taking the material seriously doesn’t bode well for their ability to discern a good job from one just a bit better than a Lifetime original movie.

Dutch director van Rooijen offers nothing to chew on. This is his first English language film, but one would hope that wouldn’t affect his ability to frame a decent scare. The seemingly sterile environment would seem an ideal setting to play with shadows and light. The images he chooses makes him look to be unaware of how to take advantage of any location.

Sieve has much staff writing experience writing for Scream: The TV Series. He did an episode of Teen Wolf and two Bogeyman sequels that I didn’t know existed until I read about it on IMDB. I guess that was enough for two producers to pick up the script for this film, originally (and maybe more intriguingly) called Cadaver.

It is a lower budget shot that shows Sony subsidiary Screen Gems trying to find the magic that has worked so well for Blumhouse. It’s not going to go far, likely because the studio lacked courage enough to follow one original idea with a few others.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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