Truly horrifying movies rarely come along. Genre fans usually settle
for films that are shocking, or gory, or filled with loud jump scares
or creepily atmospheric. But the holy grail is a film that leaves you
shaken, that gets under your skin and finds the most primal fears and
brings them, anxiously, to the surface. A film that forces you to laugh
to break the tension, that makes you squirm in your seat, that makes
you confront fears you didn’t even know you had. A film that leaves you
shaken as you walk out of the theater, and also proud that you made it
all the way through the ordeal. A truly horrifying movie.
Grace is a truly horrifying movie.
Writer/director Paul Solet makes his feature debut with the story of
Madeline, a woman who loses both her husband and her about to be born
baby in a car crash. She decides to keep the dead baby to term for the
next three weeks and to deliver naturally, but moments after being born
the very dead baby is suddenly very alive. Raising her miracle baby
alone, Madeline soon discovers that her child, Grace, has a strange
problem with flies in her room, and a stink that can’t be washed off.
And just when things seem pretty creepy, it turns out that little Grace
has no interest in the milk in Madeline’s breast but rather the blood in her
Solet slowly ratchets up the horror and disquiet even before the dead
baby is born. Madeline is a vegan, and she watches PETA-like videos of
animal slaughter that sent ripples of sheer disgust through the
audience. But these aren’t gratutious scenes of blood-letting; an
alternate title for this film could have been Feeding, as the movie
keeps coming to the concepts of feeding and being fed upon, both as
elements of horror and personal completion. But once that baby is born
and the extent of its… situation becomes obvious to us and Madeline,
the film reaches new levels of sheer of uncomfortable disgust and
Grace is a body horror film the likes of which we haven’t seen since
the heyday of Cronenberg. The baby as parasite is one of the many
deep-seated fears that Solet exploits, and scenes familiar to all
parents – being rundown and exhausted due to the demands of the new
baby – take on shades of absolute horror here. And if the gory,
ghoulish relationship between mother and infant isn’t enough to get
under your skin, Solet throws in a mother-in-law with a lactation issue
and a doctor with a creepy agenda, as well as a stalking midwife. All
of these elements collide in the third act, which features some
unsuccessful moments but recovers for a finale that I never saw coming
and which made the entire theater explode with queasiness and shock.
Two MALE theatergoers fainted at Grace‘s premiere; at first I thought
this was standard PR bullshit, but after seeing the movie I get it. And
they didn’t faint because the movie is gross (although it can be) but
because of the way the grue is presented – you feel every drop of
blood, every rip of flesh.
Solet’s work on the film is extraordinary. While obviously low budget
in some places, the tight, smart script and assured, atmospheric
direction keeps you from focusing on the fraying at the edges. A CGI
fly becomes less distracting and plain horrifying when it goes up baby
Grace’s nose, for instance. Jordan Ladd’s performance as Madeline is
another factor that buoys the film far beyond its low-budget roots.
I’m not a parent but was still viscerally affected by what I saw on
screen. I sat next to Drew McWeeny, now of Hitfix.com and father of
two, and saw that the film punches parents even more deeply. But with
spawn or without, Grace is a reason for horror fans to celebrate.
Here’s an original film that’s not referencing a thousand other movies,
that doesn’t shy away from being truly disturbing, that isn’t afraid to
be smart and build characters before getting to the real horror
elements, and that just fucking WORKS. Like this movie or not, I dare
you to sit through it and not be affected. Hell, I dare even the most
jaded genre fan to sit through this one without being truly horrified. And maybe even fainting.