Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Grace – Review

Grace – Review

Jun 7, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Paul Solet, 2009
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Grace is the story of a mother who after the baby she is carrying dies late in the pregnancy decides to carry the infant to term and go through with the birth. After the child is born, the midwife leaves the room to give the mother some time with her child. She returns and finds the mother nursing the now-living baby. The rest of the film follows the mother and child as the already unnatural situation devolves into the grotesque. It is a slow film about a painful subject, and it can be a chore to watch. However, unlike so many low-budget horror films that aim no higher than shock and awe, Grace seems to have something to say. Unfortunately, it message is muddled and obscured by unnecessary plot elements and poor execution.

The first thing we notice about Madeline is that after two reported miscarriages, she has embraced alternative health. She is a vegan, a fact that might exist solely as a juxtaposition for her later decidedly carnivorous acts. More importantly, she has decided to forgo the hospital and have a midwife (who happens to be her ex-professor and happens to be in love with her) deliver the child. Though we see this kind of reflexive denial of science in many people who feel the medical establishment has failed them, the cynic in me can’t help but think that the midwife subplot exists solely to have the birth happen out of the way of all those pesky eyeballs and vital-sign monitors of a hospital birthing room. Even if it is sincere, the film does midwifery no public relations favors, certainly. I kind of got the idea that this exchange happened at some point before the events of the film:

Madeline: “Guess what? I’m pregnant!”

Patricia: “Hey, I’ve got a hot tub and some forceps. You should have the baby at my house!”

Soon after getting the child home, Madeline discovers that it isn’t mother’s milk that Grace craves. Only blood will satisfy the baby’s hunger. At first, Madeline gathers the blood by milking it out of raw meat she gets at the grocery. I’ve read of some vegans who interpret the film as an attack on their lifestyle. I can’t be sure of the director’s attitude toward vegans but the images of the freshly drained meat and filthy Styrofoam packaging on the kitchen counter didn’t have me craving a hamburger.

Of course, as tends to happen in horror films, things quickly get worse. Turns out, Grace doesn’t really thrive unless the blood is fresh, very fresh. This leads to scenes where Madeline sacrifices first the evil doctor hired by her mother-in-law (I say evil because he seems to have an antique breast-pump fetish, and that has to come from a dark place)and then the mother-in-law herself.

The film ends with a fairly shocking image of a mauled breast, the result of Grace moving from fresh blood to raw meat. Kids advance quickly these days. Until that shot, the film is not particularly gory. The director seems to be going for a disquieting tone and any over-the-top gore early on would certainly have spoiled that. He makes good use of long, lingering shots of inanimate objects in the David Lynch style. Leave the camera on anything long enough (say a glass of unstrained wheatgrass juice) and it can become gross and scary. With that in mind, I’m not sure if the film-ending money-shot is necessary, but as final images go, it is pretty effective.

Those lingering shots and the film’s lyrical pacing lead me to believe that the surface plot isn’t all the film has going for it. Everything about the film screams that it needs to be read symbolically rather than literally. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the message comes across clearly. My instincts say that it isn’t about the loss of a child but is, instead, about how having children changes a person. Madeline will do anything for Grace, including violating not only society’s laws but her own moral code. She goes from normal, loving mom to multiple murderer in the course of a few weeks. It reminds me of the conversations that are so prevalent after some heinous crime against a child has made the national news. I hear parent after parent say something like “If that were my child, I’d kill the guy.” Though that is usually just bravado, Grace presents us with the possibility that our moral code is malleable when it comes to protecting our children.

Truly, I can’t speak with any certainty to the message of the film. I can say, though, that, despite its weaknesses and absurdities, Grace rises above the camp and exploitation of a film like It’s Alive, which takes on a similar story in a much more garish way. If the summary elements above interest you at all, the film is worth watching. If you find the whole concept off-putting, I’m afraid there isn’t enough of quality within the film to make it worthwhile.

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