Tag Archives: C

THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE

Producer: Todd Garner and Sean Robins
Director: Diederik Van Rooijen
Writer: Brian Sieve
Stars: Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Stana Katic, Max McNamara, Nick Thune, Louis Herthum, Jacob Ming-Trent and James A. Watson, Jr.
Studio: Screen Gems

C

Everyone knows what PTSD means, but Diederik Van Rooijen’s horror movie introduces us to something new—an affliction that might be termed PEPS, or post- exorcism possession syndrome. On the evidence of “The Possession of Hannah Grace,” however, it’s not a condition one is likely to encounter in a theatre more than once.

That isn’t because the movie is an awful example of the genre; in fact, it’s better-made than most, and manages to achieve a generalized creepiness, as well as a few genuine shocks. Ultimately, however, it becomes repetitive, unable to sustain the premise even for its brief 85-minute running-time.

The exorcism part of the plot occurs in a relatively brief prologue, where we see Hannah (Kirby Johnson) possessed by a demon that two priests are trying to expel as she lies writhing tied to a bed, issuing threats between prayers and sprinkles of holy water. When the demon proves too powerful for the clergymen, whom it telekinetically seizes, raises in the air and begins to crush to death, her distraught father smothers Hannah to death.

But, of course, he’s not taken PEPS into account.

Months later, Megan (Shay Mitchell), a young woman whose career as a police officer was shattered with the death of her partner and is now a recovering addict, has gotten a job as the night morgue attendant at a Boston hospital thanks to her sponsor Lisa (Stana Katic), a nurse there.

On her very first shift, however, something very odd happens. One of the corpses delivered is that of a badly disfigured young woman, whom she identifies as Hannah Grace, a girl her investigation indicates died in a botched exorcism some time ago. Strange noises and shadowy movements begin to occur. Even odder, the corpse shows signs of changing, its injuries gradually diminishing.

It turns out that the changes are the result of activities that the reanimating corpse undertakes when out of Megan’s sight. These involve encounters with other members of the staff, including Lisa and goofy security guard Dave (Max McNamara). What’s happening will be explained by a mysterious intruder (Louis Herthum) who sneaks into the morgue with a definite mission in mind. There will be other visitors as well—Dave’s lethargic partner Ernie (Jacob Ming-Trent); Andrew (Grey Damon), a cop who’s also Megan’s ex-boyfriend; and Randy (Nick Thune), a philosophical ambulance driver. Most meet an unhappy fate.

It doesn’t take very long for the script to reveal its rather simple secrets, and the scenes of Hannah attacking her victims don’t show sufficient variety. But the production design by Paula Loos is eerie, and cinematographer Lennert Hillege uses light and shade skillfully; the effects—except for those involving the crematorium—are good as well (especially those showing the look of Hannah’s corpse and its spidery walk, nicely executed by Johnson and edited by Stanley Kolk and Jake York). John Frizzell’s score is nicely understated, with the “gotcha” moments avoiding the sudden blare of noise that’s almost obligatory nowadays. Most importantly, Van Rooijen, making his English-language debut, shows that he can create a spooky atmosphere while not drenching everything in gore.

As to the performances, Mitchell is merely adequate as the heroine, and the rest of the cast is simply okay, though McNamara offers a bit of Michael Pollard weirdness and Thune is nicely laid-back.

“The Possession of Hannah Grace” gets about as much mileage out of its thin premise as could be expected, and exhibits some cool visuals along the way; but that’s not quite enough.

UNSTOPPABLE (SEONG-NAN HWANG-SO)

Producer: Park Joon-shik
Director: Kim Min-ho
Writer: Kim Min-ho
Stars: Ma Dong-seok (Don Lee), Song Ji-hyo, Kim Seong-ho, Kim Min-jae, Park Ji-hwan, Bae Noo-ri, Lee Sung-woo and Park Gwang-jo,
Studio: Well Go USA Entertainment

C

Anyone mourning the fact that Liam Neeson has apparently decided not to prolong the “Taken” franchise—and willing to read subtitles—might take a chance on “Unstoppable,” a sort of South Korean counterpart. Though it adds a dose of comedy to the mix, it’s basically the same story of a guy determined to rescue a person he loves from a bunch of nasty bad guys, and capable of using a great deal of force to do so.

If Neeson seemed an unlikely action hero at first, so does Ma Dong-seok (billed as Don Lee), the big, beefy bear of a man who plays the hero Dong-Chul. Though known as a bruiser in his earlier years, Dong-Chul’s settled down to a life of meek domesticity with his wife Ji-Soo (Song Ji-hyo), and with his goofy closest pal Chun-sik (Park Ji-hwan) he’s involved in a fish-mongering business.

The first half-hour of the movie is devoted to a comic dispute between husband and wife over Dong-Chul’s investment in a shipment of king crabs; frankly it seems to go on forever. But as a result of a fender-bender they catch the eye of evil Ki-Tae (a maniacal Kim Seong-oh), a snarling crook with a lucrative business in human trafficking, and the tone suddenly changes.

Ki-Tae’s system is fairly simple, if also rather implausible: when he sees a woman he thinks will fetch a high price, he simply abducts her, and then bribes her husband (or father, presumably) to accept her loss. Additional forms of persuasion can be applied if necessary.

Ki-Tae thinks that Ji-Soo is eminently saleable, and so kidnaps her, leaving Dong-Chui a suitcase of cash as a replacement. But he’s unwilling to accept the trade, going to the police instead. They’re not terribly helpful—all they really do is take the case (and the money) as evidence—and so it’s up to Dong-Chui, aided by his pal Chun-sik and an equally bumbling investigator named Kwon (Kim Min-jae)—the two serve as comic relief—to track down the villains on his own.

The precise trajectory of the search is pretty convoluted, with some twists that don’t make a lot of sense. But it allows for a succession of action scenes in which Ma Dong-seok (or Lee, if you prefer) can show his ability to toss guys around fairly nimbly (so much so that a few burly foes, seeing him do so, simply decline to engage). There are two episodes involving a retrieval of money—one involving Dong-Chul and the fellow who sold him those crabs, played mostly for thrills, and the other involving his two pals and the cops from whom they want to get back that suitcase of cash, played mostly for laughs.

Of course, as the movie rolls on, the battles become more brutal. Dong-Chul’s final face-offs, the first with some of Ki-Tae’s most able goons and the confrontation with the boss himself—a ferocious car chase followed by a savage one-on-one—leave little to the imagination. It cannot be said, though, that either here or elsewhere the choreography of the fight scenes shows anything new; the action sequences are respectable without being distinctive, and at times they’re even oddly prosaic.

The same can be said of the periodic insertion of scenes of Ji-Soo being threatened by her captors. For the most part these feel truly nasty and unsettling. They seem out of character with the rest of the picture, moving from merely unpleasant to genuinely repulsive.

But if one comes down to it, the “Taken” movies were pretty grubby too, so “Unstoppable” follows in their footsteps closely in that respect as well. For some that won’t matter, but it means that Kim Min-ho’s feature debut doesn’t match the best South Korean action movies in either substance or style.