Grace: The Possession, 2014.
Directed by Jeff Chan.
Starring Alexia Fast, Lin Shaye, Alan Dale, Brett Dier, Joel David Moore and Alexis Knapp.
A virginal Catholic teenager leaves her religious grandmother’s house to go to college and soon finds that drink and drugs are the least of her worries.
The trouble with making a possession film in the 21st century is that it has been done quite definitively already. The Exorcist pretty much covered all the bases back in 1973, and although there have been some entertaining knock-offs since then – Amityville II: The Possession basically re-told the same story but with the touch of Dino De Laurentiis adding some unintentional quasi-comic hilarity – and a bit of a re-invention with the likes of The Last Exorcism adding a found footage spin on things, you’ve really got to work hard these days to make a movie about possession stand out.
The debut feature of director Jeff Chan, Grace: The Possession doesn’t do anything story-wise that you haven’t seen in a dozen other horror movies from the last decade; Grace (Alexia Fast – Jack Reacher) is 18 years-old and is going away to college. It soon becomes clear that Grace has grown up in a small town and has been sheltered from the ways of the world by her domineering grandmother Helen (Lin Shaye – Insidious), and after an incident involving having a few drinks at a party with interested potential boyfriend Brad (Brett Dier – Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and her spunky new roommate Jessica (Alexis Knapp – Pitch Perfect) result in Grace being hospitalised, Grace is taken back home by Helen and forced to re-adopt the Catholic lifestyle. But just what is happening to Grace that make her have the bizarre visions that brought about her return home?
With something of a limp story, what makes Grace: The Possession a little more original is the fact that it is shot from Grace’s POV, and therefore a demon’s eye view (not a spoiler – it’s in the title of the film). It was a device that worked for the Maniac remake so if it works for a slasher movie then why not for a possession one? And for the most part it does work, although due to the budgetary restraints of this film it feels a lot less arty than it did in Maniac. The budget restrictions also make themselves known with some – but not all, to be fair – of the special effects, like in the exorcism scene where Grace looks down at her legs (as she is wont to do a lot in this film) after being splashed with holy water; the screams she omits are likely due to how cheap and nasty the CGI scarring effects are rather than being connected to any pain. The demonic voice that Grace adopts is also laughably bad, sounding like an old-school Doctor Who alien rather the voice of ultimate evil that we’re supposed to believe it is.
But with a paper-thin story, obvious borrowing from other movies and some cheap effects aside, Grace: The Possession does score well in other areas. The presence of Lin Shaye does wonders for any film and here she works wonderfully as the domineering grandmother, and the scenes where she is chastising Grace are more scary than anything that the effects department can come up with. And there’s nothing scarier than fanatical old women, right? Former Neighbours star Alan Dale plays stoic priest Father John, and although his character’s fate is pretty predictable he adds a presence of bullish authority that feels a little underwritten but is pitched correctly by the actor nonetheless. In fact, there’s not really a bad performance in this film and although not all the characters are used to their fullest the cast do well in fleshing out what they were given to do.
Grace: The Possession is a brave attempt on the part of the filmmakers to do something different with a limited sub-genre of horror, and for the most part you could say it works as there’s nothing else that springs to mind that tries to do it this way. It’s not as annoying as a found footage film as there is nobody stopping and starting the action by picking up/putting down cameras or by being shot in night vision where you can’t see anything, and although it does follow modern teenage horror movie convention in the first half by throwing in jump scare after jump scare, once Grace returns home and the really weird stuff starts to happen the film picks up and has a nice energy to it that gives it a bit of a flow that relies more on escalation. Anybody seriously into their horror probably won’t see this film as anything other than gimmicky but Grace: The Possession does have the distinction of having a bit of effort behind it – in certain areas, at least – and in this day and age of production line supernatural horror movies that’s enough to make it stand out, although maybe not as much as the filmmakers would probably like.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★