A pulse-pounding horror-thriller, Columbia Pictures’ The Possession of Hannah Grace starring Filipina-Canadian actress Shay Mitchell, is sure to terrify audiences when it opens in Philippine cinemas January 23.
The Possession of Hannah Grace came to life when producers Todd Garner and Sean Robins began brainstorming for inspiration for a one-of-a-kind premise that could anchor a truly terrifying horror film. “We began to develop ideas and settings that we thought were scary—this particular movie actually came from an article we read about someone who had to do community service in a morgue,” Robins says.
“This is a story about a woman confronting her own mental health and being stuck in a really harrowing situation of a very lonely, scary, creepy job,” adds Garner. “She’s not sure at first if it’s her own mental health or if it’s something more supernatural happening to her.”
Screenwriter Brian Sieve—whose resume includes MTV’s Scream TV series, Boogeyman 2—sparked to the concept immediately. “I’ve always gravitated to horror movies that are more psychological in nature where you’re questioning the protagonist’s sanity—and the protagonist is questioning his or her own sanity.”
Sieve embarked on a period of intense research. He watched documentaries about the experiences of Emergency Medical Technicians tasked with delivering bodies to morgues, and he interviewed experts at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office. Keeping the telling, real-world insights he had gleaned firmly in mind, Sieve sat down to write a character-forward psychological thriller, drawing from and updating classic horror themes. Even as he ratcheted up the supernatural scares, he rooted the screenplay in the experiences and perspective of an emotionally damaged but imminently resilient former cop, played by Mitchell.
To helm the film, producers Garner and Robins turned to Dutch writer-director Diederik van Rooijen. “Diederik was actually the first person I met with on this film, and I immediately fell in love with the things he said about the script and the way in which he wanted to shoot it,” says Robins. “Jump scares are great, and blood, guts and gore are typically part of the vernacular, but because the psychological was much more interesting to us, with Diederik we achieved a great balance of the two.”
As a child, van Rooijen grew up watching such classics as The Shining, Halloween and Hellraiser. “I’ve seen them all, and far too young,” the filmmaker, whose crime thriller and suspense credits include the Dutch-language features Taped (2012) and Daylight (2013), says with a laugh.
To get this project, van Rooijen made a five-minute short film that encapsulated his creative approach to the project, using movement, sound design, and the claustrophobia of the setting to amplify the tension inherent in the nail-biting premise. He even shot the short inside a morgue in Amsterdam for an added sense of authenticity. “What I really love about the premise is having somebody stuck down there having to face her own demons—and the real demon,” the director says. “I wanted to capture that loneliness. Time ticks by very slowly when you’re alone in that kind of situation. You’re always waiting for something to happen. That’s half the ride. Then, of course, you have to scare the hell out of them, which we will.”
The Possession of Hannah Grace, is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.