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The Possession of Hannah Grace

'The Possession of Hannah Grace'

‘The Possession of Hannah Grace’

Perfunctory B-movie “The Possession of Hannah Grace” isn’t exactly an earth-shattering entry into the well-worn genre that is the exorcism movie. It doesn’t so much as invite attention to itself as it does to the genre itself, allowing viewers to ponder the ways in which it does or does not hew to convention, and what that might mean for the state of the exorcism movie some 45 years after Linda Blair puked pea soup all over our collective frontal lobes in “The Exorcist.”

Set in an environment of flickering fluorescent lights and pockmarked poured concrete, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” isn’t really about the possession, nor is it even about Hannah Grace. The film, rather, centers on Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell), a newbie overnight intake assistant at the Boston Metro Hospital morgue whose night is rocked by the arrival of Hannah Grace’s corpse.

A prologue offers the kind of exorcism content we’re familiar with: heavy Catholic iconography, chanting priests, a nubile female body writhing and lashed to a bed. Which is why the most interesting thing about the film, written by Brian Sieve and directed by Diederik Van Rooijen, is it abandons all that gothic familiarity for a night at the morgue. Instead of a patriarchal priest compelling demons to get out, a young woman, riddled with PTSD and clinging to 60 days of sobriety, is just trying to get someone to believe her that something’s not right with this body.

At one point, someone wonders to Megan, “Why hasn’t she killed you?” It’s an apt question. She’s a mentally unstable young woman, struggling with addiction and anxiety and trauma — ripe for possession. But it seems in Megan, Hannah and whatever is inside Hannah (it’s never clear) has met its match, and that’s the place where we should dive further. It’s a bit of a shame the film never draws that out with any clarity.

But for all the pondering “The Possession of Hannah Grace” inspires, it’s also true that at a quick 85 minutes, it still manages to feel tedious at times. The dour environment doesn’t help, the humor doesn’t pop, and disappointingly, the scares just don’t land. There are a few jumps and bumps, but there’s no real sense of dread or unease or questioning. We simply watch the events unfold with a full understanding of what’s going on. It’s unfortunate that “The Possession of Hannah Grace” just never fully takes hold.

(R, 2 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 25 min.)

– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

'Suspiria'

Some film disappointments send you out of the theater flustered, others indignant. "Suspiria" had me perplexed. This artsy reinterpretation of horror maestro Dario Argento's 1977 danse macabre is creepy, violent and, at points, outright appalling. But it isn't frightening. It is a case of wasted arterial spray.

Running 2 ½ hours — almost an hour longer than its hallucinatory predecessor — the new "Suspiria" aims for an aura of eerie anxiety, one slow, bloodstained footstep at a time. The source material, the experiences of a new American ballerina at a creepy German dance academy/witches' coven, remains the same. But it is expanded to cumbersome lengths by director Luca Guadagnino and his writing partner David Kajganich (collaborators on the rock 'n roll love tragedy "A Bigger Splash").

Opening in 1977 with the pedantic subtitle "Six Acts and an Epilogue Set in a Divided Berlin," Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) runs through an ominous rainstorm to the office of her psychotherapist, Dr. Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, although the role, one of three handled by Swinton, is credited to the fictitious Lutz Ebersdorf).

A former member of Berlin's renowned all-female Markos dance troupe, Patricia is all jittering nerves and obsessive babblings. The troupe, overseen by Helena Markos (Swinton again) has messed with her head, she insists. Then she's gone, leaving behind a diary full of scribbled rants and occult symbols, alchemical designs echoed by mosaics on the cavernous dance school's floors, just so you notice.

Arriving to fill the opening that Patricia's disappearance has caused is Susie (Dakota Johnson), who has run away from her Mennonite roots in Ohio to follow her instinctive calling to join the dance ensemble that has fascinated her for years.

Through half-overheard dialogue and hinting implications from the female faculty, we learn that someone is going to be inducted to the school's very exclusive inner circle. Others will be expelled in appallingly violent ways.

What does it all add up to? A dreamy, unreal film engorged with cryptic complexities, red herrings, twisty turns and Easter eggs but few of the first edition's devilish, pulpy thrills. It's not that Gaudagnino is a careless filmmaker. I suspect that he genuinely wanted us to feel uncertain and unnerved but went too far down a zigzag narrative path.

(R, 2 of 4 stars, 2 hr. 32 min.)

-- Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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