I have been waiting for Grace for a long time.
I had heard wonderful things about Grace for a while and when I realized it was screening at AFI Dallas this week, I snapped up three tickets for the night of my birthday. Two of my friends and I went and while I managed to embarrass myself in front of the director and Jordan Ladd (you can read about that at the end of this), Grace was phenomenal.
As you can guess from the poster, Grace is a horror movie but it’s one of the rare ones that I think can transcend the label. Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) is a woman who’s interested in things outside the mainstream: she eats a vegan diet, relies on homeopathic medicine and watches slaughterhouse documentaries while cooking. “It’s like a vegan horror movie,” she says to her friend of said documentaries. Her husband is a nice guy named Michael who has a domineering mother, the kind of lady who scolds her husband constantly and lectures Madeline on the right way to do things while insulting her cooking. Vivian, the mother-in-law, is mortified when Madeline informs her that she will be having her baby with a midwife…and not in a hospital.
Everything about baby Grace’s arrival is unnatural: Michael and Madeline used fertility treatments for years to conceive, only to stop the treatments and almost a year later, Madeline gets pregnant. A freak health problem leads Madeline to the hospital, only to have a terrible car accident on the way home. Michael is killed and Grace, it appears, is dead in utero. Madeline makes the difficult choice of finishing out her pregnancy and giving birth to Grace. When she does give birth, Grace miraculously revives and begins breathing and crying. Madeline views it as a miracle. The midwife’s assistants are scared. No one can explain how Grace is alive.
Just like her arrival in the world, Grace is no ordinary baby. She attracts swarms of flies. Madeline can barely nurse her as Grace vomits everything right back up. What should be a sweet mother-daughter bonding moment at bathtime turns into a nightmare as Grace breaks out in a rash and begins bleeding. Grace is a normal looking baby with some abnormal problems, but Madeline’s distrust of modern medicine develops into downright fear. Afraid of doctors and modern medicine, Madeline refuses to take her to the hospital. She views Grace as “special”, Madeline’s own little miracle, and won’t hear of any doctors being involved.
Vivian, in the meantime, is in the throes of grief about Michael’s death. Madeline refuses to let her see Grace and Vivian’s suspicions about Madeline lead her to scheme to declare Madeline unfit as a mother so Vivian can take on Grace’s upbringing.
Madeline falls asleep one day while nursing and awakes to find Grace sucking away…but she’s broken Madeline’s skin and is nursing on blood. Madeline begins to come to the realization that there’s only one thing that she can give her baby girl to keep her alive.
Now, that was a lot of words to encapsulate roughly one-tenth of what this movie’s about. I’d say if you’re looking for an overall theme here, it’s the things people do for love – not only as mothers, but in a romantic sense as well.
Jordan Ladd is just stellar. I can’t say it enough. She takes this character, this lady who is as unassuming and pacified as they come and turns her into a woman who will do anything for her child. This is a woman who can’t bear to touch a piece of a liver at the beginning of the movie, who is almost physically sickened by hearing her husband chew a piece of meat. By the middle of the movie, she’s going to the store to buy pack after pack of meat to drain off the blood for baby Grace. Jordan Ladd really sells that. I have to say, I knew Jordan Ladd was a good actress, but even I didn’t expect this from her. Everyone does a really good job acting-wise but Jordan Ladd had to take on the brunt of all this with ease and subtlety.
As far as the story goes, I will say that I think a lot of horror movies are really lazy today and when something like Grace lands in my lap, I almost don’t know what to do with it because there’s so much good there. It’s a credit to the writer/director Paul Solet that there’s a lot of depth in this one. The audience in my was as horrified at Vivian’s machinations to worm Grace out of Madeline’s care, like stimulating breast milk and cuckolding her husband into building a crib, as they were at Madeline’s descent into base human instinct. Vivian herself is a really strange character, a lady who prides herself on order and propriety who longs to staunch her grief over Michael’s death by taking on Grace.
The ending to this one is just unbelievable. I suppose if I sat there and thought about it, I could work it out. Watching it is a different story because you’re too engrossed to sit there and think about it. Grace takes some time to digest.
Grace is overall a really strong, subtle movie. It’s equal parts provoking and disturbing; it is a horrific film without being exploitative. This movie doesn’t sound like other horror films and it certainly doesn’t look like other horror films. I really hope Grace gets the release and promotion somewhere, somehow that it deserves because it’s more than worthy of that. When I say that I’ve been waiting for Grace for a long time, I don’t just mean the movie itself. It’s been a very long while since I’ve seen a new horror movie that was layered and smart. Very few horror movies seem to even aspire to this, so rounds of applause for the people that made Grace.
If you can catch a screening of this? Please do yourself a favor and go see it. (It reportedly made people faint at Sundance. No one, to the best of my knowledge, fainted at my screening, but I could see how that would be possible.)
And now, how I made an ass out of myself in front of Paul Solet and Jordan Ladd:
When we got to the screening as far as I knew, no one of importance would be there. Our beers in hand, Ajay (the Best Picture Showcase winner, who you may remember) and Jen came with me. At the beginning, the AFI Dallas PR rep stood up and made a speech about seeing this at Sundance and let me just tell you I’ve never seen a man in a business suit so excited about anything. Anyway, he announced that Jordan Ladd and Paul Solet, the writer and director, would be there after the movie to answer questions and talk a bit about the movie. My reaction:
I turned to Ajay and said, “Jordan Ladd? I LOVE HER. She was in Cabin Fever AND Death Proof!” All you have to do to earn my love is get your face melted off by flesh eating bacteria and also be in a Quentin Tarantino movie. At this point the lights were up and movie goers were conversing pleasantly. Since this was a midnight screening, the crowd seemed very relaxed and laid back. Hell, the guys next to us brought in McDonald’s.
Ajay began to giggle in a way that made me uncomfortable. It was kind of like the giggle the girls in the white dresses do in the Nightmare on Elm Street series and Jen was kind of whispering to me about things, so I felt confused. In my defense, I was thinking about A) my beer; B) shiny things I got for my birthday; C) my beer.
It wasn’t until the lights went down that Ajay informed me that the writer and director, Paul Solet, was sitting behind us and Jordan Ladd was sitting directly behind me and to my right. GREAT.
My big mouth would go into overdrive again.
After the movie ended, I felt like I had gotten punched in the ovaries, so to speak. Jen was huddled in her seat, whimpering about body parts hurting and “never having children”. I was much in agreement. I believe I made the comment to Ajay that I wanted “a drink, a smoke and my tubes tied”. I was mentally tabulating all the ways that I could convince a doctor to remove my ovaries or sterilize me in some fashion when I realized, “Dumbass, the director and Jordan Ladd are sitting behind you.” That’s about the time they got up to do the Q&A, which was interesting, but I slunk out of the theater feeling sort of stupid.
Jen told me, however, that Jordan Ladd felt “proud” that we had that kind of reaction, or at least that’s what she was telling her neighbor. Well, she has a lot to be proud of…but I still feel like a jackass.