Anchor Bay // 2009 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // September 23rd, 2009
"Please, you don't understand. She's special. She needs...special food." -- Madeline
Grace takes the concepts of birth, vegan diets, and feminine roles, and twists them around in to something frightening and ugly. It wants to be a highbrow horror flick along the lines of what David Cronenberg or Clive Barker might dream up, and in some ways it gets there. But still, there is something missing amongst all the horrific images of breast pumps, raw meat, and a baby that draws flies. The film comes off as a flawed yet interesting experiment that will have a difficult time finding the right audience. I'm not sure many people are looking for a horror film about birth created by a stylish young filmmaker who dabs a streak of misogyny into his first major effort.
Madeline (Jordan Ladd, Death Proof) is understandably freaked out, because this is her third pregnancy after two unsuccessful attempts to go full term. She has decided to eat completely vegan, and hire a midwife (Samantha Ferris, Screwed) rather than relying on the traditional hospital and overpaid doctors. A freakish auto accident kills her husband (Stephen Park, Slither), and the emergency room doctors tell Madeline her baby is now stillborn. Madeline decides to deliver anyway, and gives birth to a baby girl who is miraculously brought to life by the sheer will of a grieving mom. Only trouble is, this baby is not quite normal.
I was totally frustrated watching the DVD, because there's a great idea here that never comes to fruition. The main problem with this feature is it is a maternity nightmare engineered by men, lacking any feelings of truth or substance. Writer and director Paul Solet got the idea after a story from his mom that he had a brother who was stillborn. It's a terrifying thought, and truly the film has the basis for a great shivery tale based in our modern world. Paul first made a short film to pitch his idea about a dead baby going full term to studios. The young writer-director has been waiting for his big break for quite some time, so he goes for broke with stylish touches and tons of atmosphere. There are too many flourishes added without much justification, and in the end it becomes less about horror and more about sensationalism. Take for example a lesbian affair revealed between the mother and her midwife. There's no reason for this beat in the story, but it crops up as a misguided male fantasy come full term. There is another scene where an older actress angles to express her own milk, and it feels just as exploitative. The film seems to have no true connection to women's concerns about birth, and basically degenerates to "don't let lesbian vegans have babies." The male touch is far too strong and overbearing for Grace to be successful.
Technically the DVD is competent, although I can't say I was wowed by what the audio and visuals delivered. This may have far more to do with the source material than DVD authoring, but it seems that Grace has some hiccups. Visually the shots look dark and grainy as well as severely washed out. The sound design is weak, and often character dialogue is lost by being far too soft. Grace has a certain level of murk that adds to the atmosphere, but it comes off looking and sounding messy and not always on purpose.
In the extras department Anchor Bay tricks Grace out as if it were being prepped to be a major release from the Criterion Collection. Front and center we get a lively commentary that includes the writer and director, producer, and cinematographer. They all come off as proud fraternity brothers who have dreamt up this woman's nightmare. There are no fewer than six "behind the scenes" featurettes which cover Grace from conception up to the Sundance screening and beyond. There are glimpses of the original short, and interviews with most all of the major players. After watching all of them I felt like I was a member of the crew, and I wondered where my paycheck was. I mean, there is even an interview with the director's proud parents in here. Also available is a copy of the script on CD ROM as well as the film's red band trailer.
Despite misgivings with Grace, I have to give the film praise for never taking an obvious path and for creating some truly creepy images. Paul Solet's strength as a director is creating strong visuals, and Grace has an optical power few horror films possess. The crazy images of meat and medieval breast pumps are unshakable, and it works on a visceral level even when the plot veers off the rails. If you're looking for a film that excels in style even when it lacks substance, Grace fits the bill for ghoulish shots of mother and child.
Grace is a great idea, but fails to come full term and deliver the goods as an effective horror film. Visually it is sophisticated, but the film lacks authenticity with the female experience it so desperately tries to capture. Grace goes too far, and not in a good way. Paul Solet has been hailed as a young director to watch, and he certainly has a firm grasp on how to make visuals work. Hopefully in his next film he'll find the right material for his excessive style. Grace is an icky convoluted mess of of a movie, but at least it contains an original idea. I wish it had been tempered with some wisdom about plots and pathos, but it pile drives through any subtlety to bring on the gross-out moments.
Guilty of lacking a woman's voice, Grace makes pregnancy and
motherhood horrifyingly male.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD-ROM Script