The main strength of horror films lies in their ability to take the familiar in life, the comfortable and safe, and transform it into its inverse, rearrange it in an uncanny way until it draws out a base response; ideally, this would be fear.
And Grace, the new film from up-and-coming genre director Paul Solet, is certainly something that takes the familiar—childbirth and motherhood—and twists it, twists it until things start to snap and blood starts to gush.
Grace is about a mother-to-be named Madeline Matheson (played by Jordan Ladd, who also acted in roles in genre films by Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth) who decides, after having some miscarriages, to go to a midwife birthing center instead of a hospital.
She and her husband (Stephen Park) don’t seem to get along very well, nor does she get along with her overly-critical and conniving mother-in-law, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose).
An accident leaves both Madeline’s husband and her child dead, leading to several scenes showing Jordan Ladd’s legs spread and the clothing around her crotch soaked in blood. However, widow-Matheson decides to carry the child to term regardless. If you ever thought the idea of childbirth was a terrifying experience, this movie will confirm it for you. If you always thought it was a beautiful thing (albeit messy), then this movie tries pretty hard to imply otherwise.
After she gives birth to her dead child, she tries to—I think I’m getting this right—nurse it, which brings it back to life.
Madeline names the baby Grace.
After taking the child home, however, it becomes clear that something is very wrong with Grace: she’s starting to smell, hair and skin is beginning to slough off, she’s vomiting violently (and so suddenly it made me laugh out loud), et cetera. It becomes clear, perhaps a little abruptly, that the baby craves human blood. (On a related note: my heart goes out to any woman who’s ever breastfed an infant.)
While this is occurring, the midwife that delivered Grace (Samantha Ferris) harbors an infatuation with Madeline and the mother-in-law Vivian becomes obsessed with the idea of raising the child herself and plots to steal Grace away. All of this culminates in homicide, bloodletting, and one of the characters getting a hammer to the face.
If you want a hint to how the movie ends, I’ll give you the last line: “She’s teething.”
Alright, let me get some criticism out of the way before I get on to what I thought were some real strong points the movie exhibited.
Firstly, the CGI was pretty awful, but that’s just splitting hairs. Second, the acting was really mediocre. Almost all the actors involved in this film had some background in genre—mostly Science Fiction television shows—but all of them were pretty sub-par (wooden, unbelievable) with one exception: Gabrielle Rose was absolutely perfect for her role as the creepy mother-in-law. Third and final, the ending is eyeroll-inducing and leaves the movie wide open for a sequel, as wide open as Jordan Ladd’s legs during the bloody crotch-shot scenes.
All of that aside, though, I have to admit that Grace is pretty nightmare inducing. It’s a film that, with its use of startling and jarring imagery and action, seizes at your chest and makes your hand go up to your mouth with a combination of fear and disgust.
Grace accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: make an audience squirm with discomfort. It does this in a way common among contemporary films, using extreme close-ups of ordinary objects to make them seem ominous and extreme close-ups of disturbing and gory objects to make them seem…well…as gory and disturbing as they would be in real life.
Also, the use of music and the cinematography during the final confrontation between Vivian and Madeline was exceptional—by far the best scene in the movie. The music for the rest of the movie was sparse (a good thing) but so-so.
I was much pleased with the fact that, unlike so many other horror films, Grace portrays a strong female main character and doesn’t try to turn her into Rambo. That’s what I found fascinating about the characters in this movie: most of them are just people with their own quirks and obsessions and needs and are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill those needs. Grace is very much a human drama, a human drama with a vampiric baby caught in the middle.
The camera shots that were chosen I also found fascinating. With what was given a close-up and what was portrayed in the background (animals being slaughtered, for instance), even innocent scenes are given a frightening edge. There’s one fantastic scene where the camera is focusing on wallpaper with a bunch of swooping and curving designs and then pans down to show Gabrielle Rose, with a matching swoop in her hair, obsessing, unblinking, over the child.
Grace isn’t a great movie and the main focus of its plot—the horror that can be found associated with childbirth and childrearing—has certainly been explored before, but it is definitely a scary and unsettling film. I can easily see it being pigeonholed into that category of contemporary horror movies that are crafted to do little other than shock and disgust (like those by Eli Roth or James Wan), but in many ways it defies this category.
Starring Jordan Ladd, Stephen Park, Gabrielle Rose, Samantha Ferris, Malcolm Stewart
Directed by Paul Solet