Last year, I was invited to check out the set of The Possession of Hannah Grace, which will arrive in theaters on November 30th, thanks to Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Entertainment. After an exorcism goes horribly wrong, the body of Hannah Grace is taken to a local morgue, but she doesn't stay dead. Thankfully, we were on set at the perfect time to witness things unravel at the morgue, and I saw firsthand how terrifying and claustrophobic a morgue can be.
Kicking off a series of interviews we conducted on set with a group of journalists, I wanted to share our discussion with producer Sean Robins and writer Brian Sieve, who is no stranger to horror, having been a writer on the Scream and Teen Wolf TV series. Keep an eye out for more interviews with the cast and crew, including Shay Mitchell and Hannah Grace herself, Kirby Johnson.
This is a project that you’ve been developing for over five years. Can you talk about how this story evolved over the years?
Sean Robins: When this started, the genesis was an article about a woman in L.A. who was ordered to take part in community service, and her service was in a morgue. She was fairly innocent; it wasn't a ghastly crime that she committed. And the idea of a woman being placed in that situation, who had no training or experience, was intriguing to us.
I actually grew up with a friend whose father was a mortician. He actually took over the mortuary and buried my father when my father passed. So I'd kind of been surrounded with it in that respect.
Brian Sieve: I met with Sean and his partner, Todd [Garner], and Sean had mentioned this idea about doing assigned community service that [was] more of a cautionary tale and these guys just thought it'd be really creepy to set something in a morgue. I thought it would be creepy, too, and then came back with the take and characters, and we worked together as a forum.
How close is the movie you’re filming to the original vision you had for it?
Brian Sieve: It's really close. With any project, we go through a development process, and it's very collaborative. I was just telling [director] Diederik [Van Rooijen] it was like what was in my head when I'm watching the monitor. That's a surreal experience for a screenwriter.
Were there any ideas that others brought to the project that may have elevated the story or characters?
Brian Sieve: Yeah, everything from the production design to some of Megan's backstory and how to visualize that. I feel like there were some really great ideas that at the end of the day I wouldn't have come up with. It's nice to be able to have that collaborative pool of people to make everything come together and come up with stuff that you wouldn't think of. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, so it's nice to have other people on the outside.
Was the script written with a PG-13 rating in mind, or is it planned to be R-rated? [Editor’s note: The movie did officially receive an R rating]
Brian Sieve: I don't think we really thought about it when we were conceiving if it would be PG-13 or what it would be. We just wanted it to be scary.
Sean Robins: The story hasn't changed it, to be honest. For us, we never looked at it as PG-13 or R. It's all a matter of what you cover and how much you show.
What kind of reading or movies did you watch in preparation for writing the script?
Brian Sieve: I'm a huge horror geek, so everything was already in my head, and that [was] the stuff that influenced me when I was sitting down to just come up with the characters. I always gravitated towards movies where the horror comes from a psychological place like Rosemary's Baby and The Shining, The Haunting of Julia, and Let's Scare Jessica to Death, where you have a character who has a very tenuous grip on reality. They're trying to get back on their feet and then something comes along and puts a wrench in that. That character has to decide whether or not what they're seeing is real or whether it's something that's preying on their own insecurities and psychological unbalance.
Was the protagonist always planned to be a female?
Brian Sieve: Yeah, definitely. I always gravitate towards strong female characters. Almost every script I've written, with the exception of one, has a female protagonist. I just think it's always a little bit more interesting.
How does Shay fit into what you first envisioned? Does she fit the character you were writing?
Brian Sieve: When I first met her and started seeing the stuff on the monitor and stuff like that, what was cool was seeing how capable she was of not only the emotional stuff, but also the physical stuff. She's a small girl, but she can really hold her own and kick ass and be a very formidable opponent to the evil.
What about seeing Kirby Johnson playing Hannah Grace?
Brian Sieve: Everyone is terrified of her! And the stuff that I love about her is everything that kind of makes her scary. I don't want to give too much away or anything, but it's all sort of stuff that's able to be done in camera and isn't CGI-enhanced or anything like that. It looks really cool just because what she's capable of doing with her body blew me away.
In my head, it was always a physical performance. I always gravitate towards stuff I grew up on. I grew up on this stuff in the ’70s and ’80s, where you couldn’t dream of manipulating anything digitally, so that's cool to see that she’s actually doing that.