Movie review: 'Possession of Hannah Grace' is more than an 'Exorcist' update

Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 11 2019 07:16 PM

A scene from 'The Possession of Hannah Grace.' Handout

Megan Reed is a police officer suffered from severe depression following a failed mission which cost the life of a colleague. After coming out of rehab, she accepted a job working the graveyard shift in a hospital morgue. One night, she received a twisted corpse of Hannah Grace, which had deep ugly lacerations all over her body. Since then, the morgue was never peaceful anymore for Megan as other people start dying one by one, while Hannah Grace's body seemed to be healing itself.

The initial premise of a psychologically unstable ex-cop applying for a job in a morgue seemed untenable right off the bat. However, if you let that questionable detail pass, the rest of the movie actually worked quite well with its aim to provide scares. Yes, there were all the usual horror film tropes right there in that morgue, with its mortuary freezers, dark corners, dead bodies, flickering lights, claustrophobic atmosphere, etc. Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen used his spooky setting to maximum effect in this, his first film in the USA.

The deformed cadaver of Hannah Grace (played by Kirby Johnson in her first title role) was also worked very well as the central horror character, with her grotesque shape, all her creaky body movements and open glaring blue eyes. We first see Hannah Grace at the beginning of the film as a subject of two priests attempting to perform an exorcism on her, with disastrous results. This initial part was practically an updated version of "The Exorcist" (the veritable template for all demonic possession films after it), but it came up with a more visually ghastly death for the priest. 

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Shay Mitchell followed the lead of her three other co-stars from "Pretty Little Liars" TV series to star in her own horror film. As Megan Reed, Mitchell was a beautiful protagonist we can easily side with in her ordeal. She seemed to be really seriously committed to her role, despite the terrible foolhardy decisions her character was making. People were already telling her to give the morbid job up, yet she wanted to investigate even if it was already completely messing her mind up. Do you call that brave, or was that crazy? The protagonist of all horror films need to act that way, or else there won't be any tension at all to speak of.

Of course, there will be questions that arise after sitting through this with your nerves all riled up. First of all, I guess they should know that destroying the body of Hannah Grace does not prevent the evil spirit from transferring to another susceptible body, right? Who or what was this spirit anyway? Why was it sparing Megan all that time (even though she had always been the easiest target), and was only killing the side characters (even taking the effort to go out of the morgue to kill them)? 

I guess logic is not exactly needed in a horror film like this, just the gore and the scares. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."