'The Possession Of Hannah Grace' Review: There's No Life Left In This Corpse Of A Film

A job working the graveyard shift in a morgue? What could go wrong? For Shay Mitchell in The Possession of Hannah Grace, the answer is: everything. This horror pastiche tries to inject some fresh blood into the tired exorcism horror sub-genre, but the result is a lackluster, haphazard, and ultimately frustrating experience.

"When you die, you die. End of story." So says Megan (Mitchell) the night she starts her new job as an intake assistant at the local morgue. She's about to find out how wrong that assessment is. Megan is working the overnight graveyard shift, which is a surefire recipe for creepiness. On top of all that, there's the specter of addiction and PTSD. Megan used to be a cop, you see, and one night, her partner was killed before her eyes. Megan blamed herself for the shooting, and descended into a tailspin of drugs and booze. Now, she's clean, but still struggling. She's left the force, broken up with her cop boyfriend (Grey Damon), and taken the job in the morgue located at the hospital where her AA sponsor (Stana Katic) works.

The hospital is a big, imposing building designed in the brutalist style – lots of big, blocky, gray shapes. It doesn't seem like a particularly pleasant place to work, and it's about to get a hell lot more unpleasant. A badly mutilated corpse is brought in – half-burnt, covered in scars, twisted up like a pretzel. The corpse is a girl named Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), and we know from a prologue that she was the recipient of a botched exorcism that lead to her death. While Hannah Grace may technically be dead, she's not about to rest in peace. Very quickly, spooky things begin going down in the underground morgue, and it becomes apparent to Megan that Hannah Grace (or whatever's possessing her) is to blame.

Ever since William Friedkin terrified audiences with The Exorcist in 1973, filmmakers have been attempting to replicate that success with exorcism tales of their own. No film has come close, although there have been a few successful entries – The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a good example. Hannah Grace is not. On the surface, The Possession of Hannah Grace has a winning set-up. The concept of being stuck in a morgue late at night with a possessed corpse is inherently creepy.

Unfortunately, director Diederik Van Rooijen wastes the concepts at play here, dumbing them down into a derivative, uninspired mish-mash. There's something particularly frustrating about a disappointing movie with good ideas. A bad movie that's bad through and through is easier to shrug off – you watch it, you think, "Hm, that stunk!", and you move on. A film like Hannah Grace, however, eats away at you. Because you can see the potential, and you can see that potential being squandered.

It doesn't help that Hannah Grace feels a little like a Frankenstein monster, stitched together from other, better movies. Emily Rose clearly serves as some inspiration – the title even sounds the same. Then there's the recent indie horror film The Autopsy of Jane Doe, about an autopsy on a mysterious corpse that turns up disturbing results. Another key inspiration appears to be Ole Bornedal's Danish horror film Nightwatch (and it's American remake), about a med student working overnight in a morgue. All of these films do various things that Hannah Grace is trying to do, and better.

There are some effective moments. The make-up effects on Hannah Grace's cadaver are authentically disturbing, and Kirby Johnson's mostly silent performance as the winking, twitching, creeping corpse is occasionally spooky – but never scary. In fact, there are zero scares here. The first few times Hannah Grace scurries across the ground like a spider, her bones twitching and popping, you'll be creeped out (but by the tenth or eleventh time it happens, you'll be rolling your eyes). Mitchell is also quite good as the tormented Megan, a character who knows how to handle herself in a dangerous situation. Lennert Hillege's cinematography, full of dark edges, corpse-grays, and impenetrable shadow sets a fine mood as well.

But the devil is in the details, and these positive components are few and far between. You can sense a better, more subtle movie beneath all of this. Megan's addiction issues are set up, and seem important at first – but quickly dropped. An opening exorcism scene is terribly staged – perhaps the most un-frightening exorcism ever captured on film – it should've been cut entirely. And while Hillege's visuals may make an impact, Van Rooijen's direction is uninspired at best, and downright confusing at worst. There's a confrontation scene late in the film involving a cremation oven that's so garbled and incoherent to watch that I had absolutely no idea what the hell was happening.

Hannah Grace also doesn't play by its own rules – there's a sense that the film is just making things up as it goes along. One moment, Hannah Grace can only twitch and writhe. The next, she can cause people to levitate in the air as if she has X-Men-like superpowers. Every room in the morgue has motion-activated lights, which gives the movie an excuse to send certain spots into pitch-blackness for a maximum creep-factor. But sometimes, the motion-activated lights are completely forgotten – only to be brought into play when the scene requires them. A better filmmaker could get away with cheats like this, but Van Rooijen is not that filmmaker.

Casual audiences searching for cheap thrills and a mercifully short time at the movies (85 minutes, all told) will likely come away from The Possession of Hannah Grace no worse for wear. But anyone hoping for a memorable horror film worth revisiting in the future will likely want to exorcise this demon from their memories.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10