Shay Mitchell Gets Trapped in a Blender of Horror Clichés in ‘The Possession of Hannah Grace’

Here we are right in the middle of the holiday season with Sony Pictures offering us a film about a demonic corpse chasing after victims inside a morgue. Of course there is nothing wrong with a little subversion but “The Possession of Hannah Grace” merely exists as recycled parts of better movies, churned into a boo fest where you can almost guess every scare before they jump out. This is also the kind of horror film where you scratch your head often, questioning some of its supernatural logic. Shay Mitchell of “Pretty Little Liars” fame is the real winner here, launching herself as a lead capable of convincingly running, screaming and pushing devils from beyond into a fiery oven.

There’s no build up to kick off this orgy of the macabre. The first scene opens in some dingy room where a possessed girl named Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson) twists and turns with cracking bones as a priest administers an exorcism. Her father, played by Louis Herthum but credited as Man / Killer / Grainger (would love to get a copy of this script), decides to end her life to stop the suffering. Cut to the big city where Megan Reed (Mitchell), a cop recovering from addiction, takes a night shift at the morgue of a creepily-lit hospital. Right on queue a body is wheeled in during her first shift, and it is the corpse of Hannah Grace (Johnson also gets the official credit of “Cadaver” by the way). As the night drags on strange things start happening around the half-charred, cut up body. For example doors open on their own, lights flicker, and an annoying security guard vanishes. Reed does some research and discovers that Grace’s exorcism made the local papers. She also notices that previous wounds on the corpse are beginning to disappear. As you can guess, Hannah Grace is not actually dead. Her possessed self begins to wreck chaos in the morgue, chasing down anyone caught in its hallways and leaving them dead.

“The Possession of Hannah Grace” screams and hisses like a checklist of modern-day scary movie clichés hastily slapped together. It doesn’t descend to the level of an earlier release this year, “Slender Man” (few films can), but comes close. Director Diederik Van Rooijen and writer Brian Sieve have a neat idea: Stage it all inside a morgue. In terms of shortening the budget costs it makes sense, but instead of creating something more original for such a setting, dependent on atmosphere and dread, Rooijen just phones in another “Conjuring” wannabe. When it comes to the old topic of demons deciding to make themselves at home inside some poor soul, the best films like “The Exorcist” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” thrive on mystery, theological conflict and ideas about evil. “The Possession of Hannah Grace” is the carnival ride version. The first scene shows us everything to confirm Hannah Grace is indeed possessed by the dark one or one of his minions, and yet once the cadaver starts trouble at the morgue, we’re left with a lot of funny questions. If Hannah is dead, why does the entity (they never say “demon” in this movie) stay in her corpse? Can’t it just find another prospect? At one point someone tells Reed they need to burn the body because it’s not actually deceased, but if we’re talking about forces from beyond wouldn’t burning (and thereby killing poor Hannah) be useless? Who is Hannah anyway to attract a satanic tenant in her body? According to her father, she suffered from depression and anxiety, which is apparently the gateway into the arms of Beelzebub. Los Angeles is quite doomed.

But it isn’t as if this film is made to ponder real supernatural horror, it just wants to be like that annoying friend always trying to make you jump. Hannah becomes one of those CGI creatures out of “Insidious,” with slender, charred arms and contorting face. She basically just crawls in the hallways, hides in corners and when she gets you, you levitate and shake as the soundtrack becomes a screeching roar. The scariest moments are early on, when Hannah’s corpse rests inside a morgue storage unit and the stainless steel door pounds or opens by itself. Another decent scare involves a cloud of flies. But once Hannah’s crawling around it becomes the typical game of guessing where she’ll pop out from next. Reed sits inside a bathroom stall and of course strange noises appear. A ball rolls into the space right in front of her and is snatched by Hannah’s demon hand. Reed gets lucky however, apparently because she too suffers from depression, so the demon cadaver decides to target the usually condemned like security guards, nurses and paramedics.

The real star here is not the cadaver however. It is most definitely Shay Mitchell. She’s a nice talent tossed into a formula rehash. She transitions well into a cop in distress, warding off evil in hallways lit so low by cinematographer Lennert Hillege that you must squint to get a good look at the special effects. Rooijen tries to give her more substance via a tossed in ex-boyfriend cop, Andrew (Grey Damon), who still thinks it’s his job to keep tabs on Reed’s sobriety.

Aside from Mitchell, you won’t get much out of “The Possession of Hannah Grace” except one or two jumps. Oh but if only this movie had been possessed by a little more creative verve.

The Possession of Hannah Grace” opens Nov. 30 in theaters nationwide.