Monday, November 4, 2019

Pretty Little Mortician

I will never deny my adoration of FreeForm (formerly known as ABC Family's) Pretty Little Liars. Even without its often adorable nods to horror (witness its Carpenter referencing and Terror Train parody Halloween episodes, for one), it's a glorious combination of soapy overplotting and kooky playfulness. While the young actresses at its center vary in quality, I have deep affection for all and root for them to have successful careers.

Especially if they involve horror films. 

Quick Plot: We open in the last minutes of a failed exorcism of the titular Hannah Grace. Two priests don't make the cut, and Hannah's grieving father takes a shortcut by suffocating his possessed daughter with an adorably hand-stitched pillow. 

Three months later, we move the action to a Boston hospital where former cop and recovering addict Megan (aka Emily Fields, Shay Mitchell) is beginning her job at the morgue's graveyard shift. After a ridiculously fast, notebook-less irresponsible orientation, Megan survives her first night of intaking corpses, scanning their fingerprints, photographing their injuries, and locking them in freezers. 

While it doesn't sound like a great position, Megan takes the job in stride. Staying busy at night helps her to stay out of trouble, and with her AA sponsor just a few floors above, it seems like she's on track for a reliable, if not sunny career change after hesitating to save her partner in a deadly shootout. 

This being a horror film and not a drama about recovery, Megan's world is soon shaken with the arrival of a mysterious Jane Doe. Much like The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the entire morgue begins to feel off. Some unethical, but clever police sleuthing leads Megan to identify the body as none other than young Hannah Grace, though certain factors, like eye color and time of death, don't seem to add up.

As you can probably guess, Hanna's second night on the job becomes a little more stressful as Hannah's infected body takes over, sparing no security guard, EMT, or nurse in its wake. 

Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen from Brian Sieve's script, The Possession of Hannah Grace didn't are well when it debuted in theaters last year. Part of it may have been the R-rating, which can often limit an audience, particularly when the face of its film is mostly associated with a show aimed at teenagers. Had it hit PG-13 (something that probably would have just required very minor tweaks) it might have done better, especially since those who licked their popcorn salty fingers at the R-rating tease might have wondered what the MPAA was thinking that day.

Rooijen mines some great tension from his wonderful setting, a sprawling, empty basement morgue that oozes its coldness from the screen. Mitchell is fine as Megan, though a deeper movie could have probably done more with capturing the daily pain of a guilt-ridden addict. There's probably a more effective film to be made that truly taps into this. 

It's not that The Possession of Hannah Grace is a terrible film, despite what critics might have made you think. There's just something missing from the final under 90 minute product that keeps it from leaving much of an impact. 

High Points
In a few key sequences, Rooijen makes a decision so rarely done in modern horror: he refrains from using music or obvious sound cues to highlight something creepy happening in the background. It's not necessarily consistent throughout the film, but every now and then, he lets small touches unfold without forcing the audience to hear them. Boy do I wish we had more of that in the genre

Low Points
It's true of many a studio horror film, but the dull CGI on display in certain sequences feels particularly lazy, especially when other pains seem to be taken to create visual personality to Hannah and her destruction

Lessons Learned
Getting defensive is not the same as getting pissed

In no world is it a good idea to try to induce a jump scare from the new employee who gets to spend midnight-to-7 all alone in a basement filled with dead bodies

The Boston police department has dangerously lax standards when it comes to password criteria

Sandwich-In-the-Morgue Watch
I had very deep concerns that despite being set in a morgue, The Possession of Hannah Grace would deny us the joy of watching an employee in a lab coat dripping thousand island dressing onto a steel table as he devoured the kind of triple decker so expected in a horror film. We don't quite get the full messiness of a stacked sub, but Megan and some coworkers do indeed chow down on some fries, so that's something

My expectations were pretty darn low for The Possession of Hannah Grace, so it's hard to say whether it's decent or just far better than I figured going in. Regardless, it's certainly not as bad as you've probably heard, and when it comes to a shelved studio possession horror film, I think you'll be satisfied enough.

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