The Possession of Hannah Grace is a demonic possession story light on quality drama, but heavy on atmosphere. It uses jump-scares and quick cuts in an attempt to rattle its audience, without really presenting anything scary. The plot is unoriginal and the characters are cookie-cutter. It does not work as horror. It does, however, display the skills of director Diederik Van Rooijen. He has a good control of mood, thus showing he could make a worthwhile horror movie, even if he did not. This is a well-made bad movie.
In the opening scene, the title character is killed during an exorcism. Three months later, her corpse turns up at a morgue. The person working the nightshift is Megan, a former cop struggling to recover from a traumatic incident. It is only her second night on the job and it is not long before odd things begin happening.
Since we already saw definitive evidence that Hannah Grace was being inhabited by some kind of demon, there is no mystery as to what is going on. Backstory is given, but it is pretty irrelevant to the action. Because there is little plot-wise to latch onto, that leaves the style.
The first thing in Van Rooijen’s favor is the way he uses his central location. The morgue feels like a real place. Its cavernous emptiness adds to the portentous mood. There is the sense that bad things could happen down there even before Hannah’s body arrives. That is a good strategy: establish the tone, then introduce the threat. Isolating a troubled character in this lonely, creepy, space, is a promising setup.
The lighting is also effective. This is a fittingly dark movie. One of the best ways Van Rooijen creates suspense is with the use of motion activated lights. A big deal is made of showing Megan moving to keep the lights on. The Possession of Hannah Grace gets a lot of mileage out of them turning on and off, building up to moments where they turn on even though Megan is somewhere else. I liked that. It was a clever twist on the “character hears a loud noise when they think they are alone” trope. Of course that is used quite a bit as well.
One thing that surprised me about this movie was how quiet it was at times. Many entries in the horror genre tend to be loud. For a large part of its 82 minute running time (minus the end credits) there is no score. When Megan walks the halls, all we can hear are her footsteps. The strange banging inside of a morgue drawer is made more unsettling by the silence that follows it. Megan’s loneliness is emphasized every time the sounds stop, which is again helped by the clear sense of space.
I appreciated a lot more about The Possession of Hannah Grace than I expected to. The technical side is impressive. Too bad the rest of it is not any good. While watching it, I was reminded of the similarly themed 2016 horror entry The Autopsy of Jane Doe. That was about two characters in a morgue with an unusual corpse when bizarre things begin to occur. It was compelling and creepy. You should watch that instead. The Possession of Hannah Grace feels like someone saw that movie and wondered how it would come off in a script no one put any effort into. The answer? Not well.
2 out of 5
Shay Mitchell as Megan Reed
Kirby Johnson as Hannah Grace
Grey Damon as Andrew Kurtz
Stana Katic as Lisa Roberts
Nick Thune as Randy
Max McNamara as Dave
Jacob Ming-Trent as Ernie Gainor
Directed by Diederick Van Rooijen
Written by Brian Sieve