Thanks to her dancing and modeling background, Kirby Johnson nabbed the pivotal role of the possessed titular character in Columbia Pictures’ new horror thriller The Possession of Hannah Grace, the ill-fated girl who loses her life in the unsettling exorcism that opens the film.
The violent, vicious demonic force that has taken over Hannah’s body isn’t content to let a thing like her death put an end to its reign of terror, and once her cadaver arrives in the morgue, the evil spirit senses a perfect opportunity to wage continued destruction, claiming a mounting roster of new victims as it pursues its real quarry, Megan, played by Shay Mitchell.
“The cadaver inflicts pain and terror on its mission to find the best host body to become as strong as possible—each time she kills, her body heals itself,” producer Sean Robins says. “When we started talking about our cadaver and how to cast her, we knew that we were looking for someone who understands movement, who can manipulate her body. It’s always going to be scarier if you’re not using CG, if you’re actually using someone whose body will do the things that you need the character to do.”
Johnson, a dancer and a model, was cast as the teenager who returns from the dead to relentlessly stalk Megan in the basement hallways of the morgue. Johnson began dancing at the age of 11, and her performance background, agility, and incredible flexibility were key to her landing the role. “I don’t think a normal non-dancer could have played something so physically specific,” Johnson says. “When I first talked to [director] Diederik [van Rooijen], he was very excited that I could do all these crazy movements so they wouldn’t have to devise effects or edit me digitally. He was just ecstatic about all the weird, creepy stuff I can do, like pop my shoulders out of their sockets. At the same time, he was very protective of me while we were working.”
“Kirby was great,” says van Rooijen. “She has this ability to pop her arms and legs, and it’s scary. That helped create something special because most of that stuff is real, we did it live. There’s not a lot of CG in it. We could actually play and have real reactions, which I think is nice for those kinds of scenes. We had an awesome time that day, but a lot of people were really scared doing it. We had one person walk off the set and say, ‘This is too much for me.’ You have the feeling, Oh, we’re on the right track.”
“She can move in amazing ways,” adds Adrien Morot, who designed the special effects makeups for the film. “It’s really incredible what she can do with her body. The way she can cock her head looked almost like her head was already falling off.”
“We’re very excited for people to see Kirby,” says executive producer Glenn Gainor. “She’s a talented dancer with the fantastic abilities of a contortionist. A lot of what you see in this film might appear to be visual effects, but it’s simply Kirby manipulating her body in the manner that very few of us can. It’s performance art, and it’s really going to freak people out.”
In Philippine cinemas January 23, The Possession of Hannah Grace is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Use the hashtag #PossessionMovie