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Grace (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"I think I prefer my horror-movie breasts as gratuitous, thank you."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2009: When a child is born in a fantastical serial, whether it be television, comics, or movie sequels, there is almost inevitably some plot twist that ages him/her rapidly, or jumps the audience forward in time, or otherwise presents us with a walking, talking, parent-resenting tween/teen/adult because, as the writers will tell you, babies are boring. I've never thought that necessarily HAD to be the case, but "Grace" is pretty good evidence that they're right and I'm wrong - although it's got both enough other problems and enough things that work that I'm not quite willing to concede the point yet.

Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) is excited to become a mother, and is determined to do right for her baby. Her husband Michael (Stephen Park) is a little unsure about Madeline's plans to give birth at a midwife's office rather than a hospital, which only makes sense with her organic vegan diet and all the other principled stands that go with it. Michael's mother Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), a judge, is by no means unsure; she's upset enough that this hippie chick has somehow taken her son away from her, and a child means there will be no getting rid of her. Not satisfied with Madeline using midwife Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris) as their obstetrician, she tries to force family friend Dr. Richard Sohn (Malcolm Stewart) on the couple. The topic seems moot after an accident on the road, though Madeline insists on carrying the baby to term. During the birth, she somehow seems to will the stillborn Grace back to life, but as she finds out during her first feeding, something is very strange about this little girl.

When you start a movie like Grace, there's a number of obvious hurdles, and writer/director Paul Solet doesn't get past them with the greatest of ease. A baby needing blood rather than mother's milk is a problem which shows up more or less immediately, and that sort of puts the storytellers into a corner. Newborns are, after all, not especially active creatures; unless you give the kid some sort of superhuman capabilities, it can be tough to build suspense in a who-lives-and-who-dies way. The story also relies pretty strongly on an idiot plot (when baby wants blood, call the doctor) compounded by convenient difficulties.

Solet and company skirt this, for the most part, by having it be a more personal kind of horror film. Rather than a rampage, this movie is more of a Roman Polanski-style attack on Madeline's sanity. Solet isolates Madeline physically and then sets Vivian to attacking her with legal and medical challenges so that even as Madeline knows Grace is more than a little odd, she's in a siege mentality. The movie is all about pitting a mother's unconditional love for her child against family, doctors, and the mother's own principles (that vegan girl's kid couldn't be much more carnivorous).

It's not all psychological, though. Solet's got plenty of ways to creep us out besides the cognitive dissonance of seeing a baby (which we're hard-wired to see as cute and lovable) as sinister. Flies circle around Grace's crib, and Madeline's breasts bleed from the abuse they take. Things like car crashes and stillbirths are realistically disturbing enough to lend their realistic creepiness to when things get strange and bloody. The movie doesn't hold back when it comes time for things to get nasty; the movie's last act has plenty of the red stuff.

The cast does a fair job of selling it. Jordan Ladd is good enough as Madeline, maybe selling the wide-eyed hippie aspects of the character a bit too well in the opening segments for us to take her completely seriously later on. The movie thus benefits greatly from Gabrielle Rose as Vivian. Vivian's a barracuda used to dominating any person foolish enough to come before her, and Rose takes no prisoners (all of the male characters in the film, be they Malcolm Stewart's doctor, Stephen Park's son, or Serge Houde's husband, cower before her to a certain extent). There's bits of what Vivian does that could be seen as silly, but Rose makes us take her seriously regardless, at least most of the time.

Not all the time, unfortunately: The parts that are more laughable than frightening don't make up a majority, but they are plentiful enough to keep "Grace" from being as thoroughly disturbing as it wants to be.

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originally posted: 05/05/09 14:50:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 15-Sep-2009


  DVD: 15-Sep-2009

Directed by
  Paul Solet

Written by
  Paul Solet

  Jordan Ladd
  Samantha Ferris
  Gabrielle Rose
  Malcom Stewart
  Stephen Park
  Serge Houde

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