Great Halloween Movie Countdown #4 : “Grace”

Posted: October 21, 2009 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
"Grace" Movie Poster

"Grace" Movie Poster

We promised — or threatened, depending on how you look at it — to take a look at first-time writer-director Paul Solet’s rather disturbing little indie horror “Grace” in a previous entry in our not-really-a-countdown,  and now seems as good a time as any to engage in a critical overview of this film that’s got a pretty solid little “buzz” going for itself thanks to a largely well-received run on the horror convention and indie festival circuit last year being that it’s just been a couple of weeks since Anchor Bay released it in the form of a very nicely-done DVD that includes (just to get the specs out of the way) a great 5.1 sound mix, stellar 16:9 picture, and extras galore including a nice little “making-of” featurette and an exhaustive feature-length commentary track from Solet and company detailing just about everything you’d want to know about the movie’s origins and its various production stages. Clearly Anchor Bay have pulled out all the stops in providing a first-class package to showcase this film, something of a rarity for a flick that barely saw any theatrical play and marks an untested filmmaker’s debut effort. In short, they clearly believe they have a winner on their hands with “Grace,” but the question is — do they?

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is “yes” — although it’s a “yes” with a few reservations, which we’ll get to in due course.

Madeline and Michael Matheson (Jordan Ladd and Stephen Park, respectively), are a very well-to-do yuppie couple (he’s a lawyer — I think, and she’s essentially a bored rich housewife — again, I think) who have been trying desperately to conceive after Madeline’s last pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. She’s now happily eight months pregnant again, and despite the reservations of stereotypical mother-in-law-from-hell Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), a judge who seems to have connections in the medical as well as legal professions, they’re forgoing the typical hospital-birth route and employing the services of a very pricey midwife, one Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris), a woman who Madeline was friends (at least, perhaps more than that) with in college who’s steered them in the direction of one of those water-births that are all the rage among the holistic/natural set these days. This is rather more in keeping with the couple’s vegan/health-conscious lifestyle, and despite humoring Vivian by paying a visit to her personal physician, Dr. Richard Sohn (Malcolm Stewart), their minds are made up.

And then, tragedy strikes. On the way home from an appointment at Patricia’s office, they’re involved in a horrible car crash that Madeline survives, but Michael and their unborn child do not.

In a move that Sarah Palin would no doubt approve of, Madeline decides to carry the baby to full term and give birth to a stillborn child. She even goes ahead with the whole water-birth scenario just as planned. And that’s when things start to get pretty damn nuts, because within moments after delivering the supposedly dead baby, Madeline puts the little girl right up to her breast and wouldn’t you know, it start feeding—and feeding—and feeding—and the little tyke’s not after her mother’s milk, it’s after her blood.

I don’t know what you’d do in a situation like that, but our girl Madeline names the baby Grace and brings her home.

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

And you know? I can sort of understand this admittedly warped decision. Imagine you’ve been trying for years to have a baby and nothing’s worked out. Then, when things are finally looking up, both the baby and your husband are lost to you in an instant. You have the kid anyway, and damn if it isn’t — at least seemingly — alive. Bloodthirsty little shit or not, you’d probably think it’s very existence was a miracle, which Madeline clearly does.

Sure, there are signs something’s not quite right almost immediately. Flies buzz around the infant’s crib like crazy.  The child has a foul odor. And then there’s all that blood-drinking.

But this baby is not only the answer to all Madeline’s prayers, it’s also a living connection to her now-dead husband. And of course, for Vivian, that also means it’s a living connection to her son.

There’s a problem, though — Madeline knows something’s wrong and she won’t let Vivian — or anyone else, for that matter — inside the house to see little Grace. After all,  how do you explain hanging roll after roll of fly paper from the ceiling in the baby’s room? Okay, maybe she just plain doesn’t want the old bitch-on-wheels anywhere near her kid, but in truth, practically speaking, she can’t let her see Grace because it would take a completely blinded fool — which Madeline surely knows she’s become but frankly doesn’t care — not to see that there’s a serious problem with the kid.

As Madeline’s mental health deteriorates, her physical health does, as well. The little tyke’s draining way too much of her blood and she’s become badly anemic as a result, so in order to satiate the six-pound bundle of evil (and by the way, is Grace more a zombie or a vampire? I’m going with vampire given the whole blood-drinking thing, but you could make an argument for her being a zombie-baby, as well, given that she is, quite literally, the living dead, as opposed to the “undead” status vampires “enjoy” — but I digress, the kid’s a monster any way you slice it, which camp it belongs to is a purely academic question) she turns to killing others since she can’t keep up with its constant demand for the red stuff and stay alive herself — and who doesn’t want the privilege of being around to watch a demon-child grow up?

There’s some seriously authentic drama between Madeline and Vivian as the elder, sensing something is seriously wrong, hatches a plot with the previously-mentioned Dr. Sohn to get Grace away from her mother. Hell, she even dusts off her old breast pump, not knowing that the baby will have other plans for her mammaries if she ever does manage to wrest it away from Madeline.

Our erstwhile blinded-by-motherly-love heroine, however, has an ally, too, in the form of Patricia, who evidently still harbors some feelings for her, much to the chagrin of her current lady-love who works as her clinical assistant.

Now, from what I’m told, this kind of shit is pretty common when a husband dies during his wife’s pregnancy. The mother-in-law become seriously unhealthily attached to the infant — but in this case, whoever ends up with the kid is the real loser, so by the time Madeline and Vivian do have their inevitable confrontation, you’re not quite sure who to root for, since neither of them seem particularly great candidates for raising a child by this point, both consumed as they are more with the need to be needed by the baby  than anything resembling love any longer, yet whoever does end up with the kiddo is essentially as good as dead.

I’ve probably given away more than enough at this point, but hopefully not too much. Suffice to say, “Grace” works as both a horror and slice of realistic (well, as realistic as can be given the circumstances) fucked-up psychodrama. It take an unbelievable-on-its-face situation and makes it believable, thus succeeding in being a truly domestic horror.

As I said earlier, though, there are some flaws. A scene where Dr. Sohn pays Madeline an unexpected visit, diagnoses her anemic condition, and then gives her a thoroughly sadistic tutorial on the proper use of a breast pump despite her weakened state is so over-the-top sadistic that it borders on being darkly humorous in a film that, frankly, has no sense of humor whatsoever. It’s jarring and incongruous and thoroughly disrupts the flow of the film. Then we’ve got the whole rather disturbing subtext of female breast mutilation that runs throughout the film. I mean, for a movie where you never see any boob at all (unusual enough for a horror flick), this is the most creepily breast-obsessed movie you could imagine. Whether it’s Grace getting at her mom’s blood through her bosom, or Vivian getting out her dusty old pump, or the doc giving Madeline an altogether inappropriate, very hands-on lesson in pump use, or the really warped and cringeworthy scene at the very end that I won’t say anything about, this is the most mammary-fixated non-porno movie you’re ever likely to see, and after awhile it stops feeling integral to the plot and starts feeling downright prurient. Suffice to say, the abused-boob theme gets taken way too far.

On the technical side,  my only gripe is that the camerawork of Zoran Popovic (“War, Inc.”), along with the lighting and set design, while very professionally executed in all respects, is seriously clinical and antiseptic, in much the same way “Deadgirl” is. The overly-orchestrated visual aesthetic works a lot better in “Deadgirl,” though, since it’s so incongruous to absolutely repulsively dingy subject matter that the dichotomy really strikes a chord. Here, though, I’d have to say that “Grace” would benefit from a little more chaos and dischord in terms of its overall aesthetics, especially in later scenes, as it would really serve to drive home the trainwreck that Madeline’s life has become thanks to her little hellspawn.

That’s pretty much it as far as the complaint department goes, though. On the whole, “Grace” explores territory few other films can, let alone should. Paul Solet has proven himself to be a new, and rather daring, voice to be reckoned with in the horror genre, even if he does sometimes let his own unhealthy fixations get in the way of telling a good story. He knows how to bring horror down to a human level we can all understand and all be both frightened and sickened by in equal measure, and he creates characters that are both hopelessly fucked up and all too real at the same time.  And regardless of whether or not you can forgive its flaws or stomach its morbid obsessions, “Grace”  is undoubtedly a film you have a very hard time shaking out of your head, because at its core is a dark truth that we can all relate to — our children need us for a time, but ultimately, they’re here to take our place after we’re gone. Every parent that has ever told their kid “you’re going to be the death of me” wasn’t just tossing out a throwaway guilt-trip line, they were giving voice, whether conscious of it or not, to a primal fear that lies at the heart of parenthood.

Fortunately for most of us, however, we won’t actually meet our end at our son’s and/ or daughter’s  hands. Or their mouths.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s