Written and Directed by: Paul Solet
Starring: Jordan Ladd, Gabrielle Rose, and Samantha Ferris
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"She's special. She needs... special food."
If there's two things that I'll happily avoid due to the male experience, it's pregnancy and childbirth. I can smell the flames from the burning bras that are about to be tossed my way, but I find both concepts rather terrifying and even somewhat revolting. I think this fear can be traced back to my 9th grade biology class, where we were forced to endure the educational film The Miracle of Life. The only miracle that day was the fact that I didn't hurl into the lap of the girl sitting behind me, and I've been squeamish about the whole ordeal ever since. Thus, if there was ever a movie that could come along and make me squirm a bit, it's Grace, the latest entry in the somewhat overlooked corner of horror focusing on evil babies and troubled pregnancies that pretty much peaked with It's Alive and Rosemary's Baby respectively.
After trying for years to get pregnant and having already endured two failed pregnancies, Madeline and Michael Matheson are on the verge of becoming the proud parents of a baby girl. Everything is going well with the exception of Michael's overbearing mother, who disapproves of Madeline's alternative vegan lifestyle and her decision to use a midwife instead of the family doctor. Tragedy strikes when Madeline and Michael are victims of a car accident and Michael is killed along with the unborn baby. Overcome with grief, Madeline decides to carry the baby to term anyway, and she gives birth to a seemingly stillborn child; however, a miracle seemingly occurs when baby Grace comes to life after drinking her mother's milk. The miracle soon turns to mayhem once Madeline discovers there's definitely wrong with her baby, as it attracts flies, emits a horrible smell, and craves blood.
Grace is a good example of an outlandish concept that's brought to life in a serious manner and remains well done. What could have been a schlock-filled romp remains a carefully constructed, almost contemplative low-key affair. Solet's direction is solid and relies more on reserved, careful pacing rather than loud, over-the-top sequences and scares. This is one horror film that's actually built upon the backs of concepts that actually make for a good film, like solid acting and good writing. Our beloved genre is often lambasted for turning out so few films with these qualities, but those critics should take note of Grace. Particularly of note are the performances delivered by Jordan Ladd and Gabrielle Rose, as each handle their difficult roles admirably. It's not exactly the second coming of the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby, but it is a solid film that remains interesting even when it's not focused on horrifying events.
Horror fans will be pleased to know that such events are few and far between, however, as Grace is full of disturbing sights. The shot of Madeline holding her stillborn baby to her breast is as creepy as it is heartbreaking, and the film only gets more disturbing from there. I can only imagine how disturbing it must be for a mother to discover that there's something horribly wrong with her baby, but Grace gives me a good idea. The film's treatment of the title character is one of the keys to its effectiveness, as Solet is able to reinforce that something is wrong with Grace in many subtle ways: the flies attracted to her cradle, her bizarre cries, and even the vacant look on her face. There's no loud, shocking, or any revelatory scenes; instead, there's just a sequence of creepy, unsettling events that are jolting in what they suggest more so than being outrageously gory.
Don't get me wrong though: Grace has its gory moments. As my introduction implies, any movie that not only shows the horrors of childbirth but also two instances of vaginal bleeding would qualify as being disgusting in my book. Though I found myself especially cringing during those scenes, it'd be a misrepresentation to label it as an overtly visual splatterfest. Instead, its other moments of gore are focused on being poignant rather than gratuitous. There's also a few unsettling moments that are pretty gross but handled well, such as Madeline feeding Grace blood from a bottle. I'm also happy to report that tit-munching apparently isn't just for Peter Bark anymore, as Grace perhaps features the first non-gratuitous instance of that particular motif.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Grace isn't necessarily the gore or its bizarre title character: it's the fact that pretty much everyone in this universe is absolutely nuts. Madeline's mother-in-law is not only overbearing, but also obsessed with her own ability to lactate beyond menopause; her father-in-law is overly submissive to his wife's domineering ways; Madeline apparently once had a lesbian affair with her midwife, Vivian, whose new lover is jealous of that past relationship. The list goes on, but, by the end of the film, it seems that an undead baby is the least crazy thing going on here, and that seems to be the point of the film. While the film might be criticized for never completely exposing or explaining its title character, it seems as though Solet is far more concerned with pointing out the depravity of human behavior. In particular, he seems particularly interested in depicting the lengths that mothers will go to protect their children. Though they're seemingly polar opposites, Madeline and her mother-in-law both seem to be equally insane in motherhood by the end of the film.
Well constructed, tightly paced, and appropriately gory, Grace is one of the better horror films that 2009 has to offer. If you've grown a bit tired of all the remakes and rehashes populating theaters lately, then this one will provide a bit of fresh air. The film did have a limited theatrical run earlier this year, but the film has only recently been made available on home video by Anchor Bay. Released on DVD and Blu-ray, the film features a solid transfer that reflects the film's somewhat grainy, low-lit look. The 5.1 soundtrack is heavily centered on the front soundstage, and dialogue is often soft, but mostly intelligible. Extras include a commentary with Solet, producer Adam Green, and DP Zoran Popvic and a ton of behind-the-scenes material that focuses on the production of the film, its music, and even its premiere at Sundance. Finally, the film's trailer accompanies the rest of the extras, along with a DVD-ROM copy of the screenplay. I should also note that the Blu-ray includes an exclusive commentary with Solet and Ladd. No matter which format you choose, make a little room for Grace. Sure, she's kind of cranky, and perhaps a little too hungry at times, but at least you don't have to breast feed her. Buy it!
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