Don’t do it.
That’s my advice for anyone considering seeing The Possession of Hannah Grace. Granted, given the film’s anemic box office thus far, most anyone who was going to see Hannah Grace in theaters has probably already done so. However, with Hollywood taking the weekend off by offering no new wide releases there might be some, like myself, who decide to give Hannah Grace a chance after skipping it last weekend. Big mistake.
Hannah Grace, turns out, is exactly what it looks like: a slightly bigger budget, but unmistakably lesser version of 2016’s instant-classic The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film both Juli and I have praised in the past. To be fair, the plot isn’t a 100% carbon copy. Jane Doe involves a father and son (Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox) at a small town coroner’s office performing an autopsy on, spoiler, what turns out to be a dead witch wielding some serious magical mojo from beyond the grave. Hannah Grace, by comparison, opens on a possessed woman dying during a failed exorcism. The demon trapped inside her body continues to wreak havoc from inside a bit city morgue seen over by Megan (Shay Mitchell, who is easily the best part of the movie), a former cop/drug addict just looking to get her life back together.
There’s enough different there to prevent Jane Doe’s screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing from filing a grievance with the WGA. If anything, Hannah Grace will hopefully bring even more attention to their movie. After all, I am far from the first reviewer telling people to skip Hannah Grace and watch Jane Doe instead. Pretty much all horror hounds are singing the same tune: Hannah Grace is a rather unimaginative, oddly lackadaisical mainstream version of something the indie world did far better years ago.
Jane Doe builds its tension, both in terms of scares as well as the character drama happening between father and son, to a beautiful crescendo. Hannah Grace has almost no tension and a rather pedestrian attempt at character drama, giving the lead character a past with drug dependency and ineffective “Is this just all in my head?” drama since the audience already knows she’s not actually imagining any of it.
Beyond that, Jane Doe makes a dramatic weapon out of its limited budget by maximizing the slowly encroaching claustrophobia of its single setting. Hannah Grace builds its story around the need to eventually place the demon girls’ body inside an incinerator, but it lacks the budget to actually depict that process convincingly and the filmmakers don’t have enough ingenuity to know how to shoot around that limitation.
Instead, director Diederik Van Rooijen’s sole attempt at genuine cleverness is to use particularly tricky motion-activated lighting – just about every room in the morgue and seemingly the entire hospital has them – for mood and scares. This is initially promising. Eagle-eyed viewers, for example, will jump the first time they notice the motion lights turning on in the morgue behind Megan when she’s not paying attention, the implication being Hannah Grace’s body is on the move.
Before long, the cleverness of this simply turns overly repetitive and adds to a wider problem, which is that you spend the majority of the film not being able to see anything. I know it’s primarily set during a night shift at the morgue, but just about every single frame of the film, even those depicting Megan’s morning jogging routine, is draped in needless shadow. It gives the impression of a film overcompensating for its lack of original ideas or fine-tuned horror movie acumen.
So, please, if you’re thinking about seeing The Possession of Hannah Grace just don’t. I know, it’s nice to support widely-released horror movies with a little bit of money behind them, but there are far better versions of this same kind of movie on Shudder and other streaming services right now. Like, for example, The Autopsy of Jane Doe. As of this writing, Jane Doe is available to stream on Showtime, or you can just rent it for a couple of bucks. It’s far more deserving of your money than Hannah Grace.