When a horror movie gets dumped on theatergoing audiences in early December, it’s either too arty for October or too trashy to pull a crowd on any but the most uncontested of weekends. When that film is literally the only wide release of its opening week, you can bet it’s the latter. Such is the case with The Possession of Hannah Grace, an Exorcist-adjacent cheapie with little redeeming value and nothing of note to contribute to its overstuffed genre. As far as low-budget horror goes, it could have been worse — but it also could’ve been a hell of a lot better. Could that statement be construed as damning by faint praise? Maybe — but only if you consider “could be worse” to be praise.
Hannah Grace opens with a particularly gruesome attempt to exorcize the demon possessing its titular victim, but you probably could have guessed that because it’s right there on the poster. Where it goes from there is somewhat more obtuse, veering into something that plays like a crossover TV episode merging the thematic worlds of Law and Order: SVU and Supernatural. (Incidentally, if that’s something you’re in the market for, kindly drop me a line and explain why.) The story follows ex-cop Megan (Shay Mitchell, doing what she can with a weak script), whose PTSD in the wake of her partner’s shooting leads her to drug addiction. Once in recovery, Megan’s AA sponsor suggests she take a gig on the graveyard shift at the local morgue to “keep her out of trouble.” If the prospect of someone traumatized by a violent death being told to work with the corpses of victims of violent death sounds like terrible advice to you, well, join the club.
But hey, I could get past that if the rest of the film made sense. Unfortunately, it absolutely does not. The morgue itself looks nothing like a hospital, instead favoring a concrete bunker aesthetic composed of stark walls, high ceilings and an inexplicably wet loading dock. More perplexingly, the lights in the entire place are activated by faulty motion sensors, which could maybe have been explained away by overzealous environmentalism were it not such an obvious OSHA violation. Director Diederik Van Rooijen is at least making an attempt to contribute some level of grimy visual style to his underdeveloped story, and that does score some points. But his reach exceeds his grasp, likely hamstrung by budgetary constraints — particularly in the lackluster CG augmentation of his monster’s insectile movements — leaving the sense of a vision unattained.
Buried somewhere within The Possession of Hannah Grace are the bones of a film that brings something novel to the well-trod exorcism subgenre. Unfortunately, that’s not what shows up on screen. What we have instead is a movie that can’t be bothered to develop its characters to even the most rudimentary extent, much less settle on a central theme. Hannah Grace’s demon/zombie/vampire/whatever creature is so ill-conceived as to present an odd sense of genre dissonance, proving inane where it could have been innovative. No, The Possession of Hannah Grace is not a great film. But as far as cheap holiday-season horror counterprogramming goes, it’s better than nothing. I guess. Rated R for gruesome images and terror throughout.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande.