Directed by: Paul Solet
Distributed by: SF (Svensk Filmindustri) Rental Only
A series of seemingly estranged images start off this curious movie. Close ups of flies, a shot of a fly crawling on a woman’s naked flesh, a quick cut to a pair of feet being splattered with blood, a cat watches on as a couple make love, the woman obviously in a completely different place as she stares blankly around the room. She takes a position anyone who has experienced the frustration of desperately wanting a child will recognize a position to let semen reach the egg and complete conception. The credits start to roll, and though the soft pastel crème colour an embryo is seen. Along with the audio of a Doppler we understand that Madeleine is pregnant… it’s a strange series of images that sets a strange mood for a very strange movie.
But it’s a good movie, an effective, haunting and in a strange way emotional one too.
Knowing that Madeline is pregnant it should be happy times, but that odd choice of initial shots keep us in doubt and the movie shifts into setting up characters and their traits instead. As in all good horror it takes the valuable time to establish the individuals we are supposed to feel with - or against. It’s obviously a drama using horror themes more than a classic generic horror at this point and in all honesty I don’t want it to step over into full horror mode, for that would be to predictable. Let’s face it, drama with its themes and narrative firmly rooted in the horror sphere is where some of the most impressive movies are coming from right now, Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) 2008, Ils (Them) 2006, Martyrs 2008, even classics like Jaws 1975 and Rosemary’s Baby 1968, Replulsion 1965 all play it for real and give an impression that this could actually happen because they establish the ordinary world in such a accurate way, with real characters, real life, real world.
There’s no superpowers or ancient threats, just a slightly alternative dark reality. It gets under our skin and into our minds much more effectively than the monster in the closet does, and the easier we can relate to being an outsider, being threatened in our own home, phobias and threats to our loved ones, the deeper it probes.
After dissecting the hierarchy of the family unit, we see that there’s a schism between Madeline and Michael’s [Stephen Park] mother Vivian [Gabrielle Rose]. She isn’t’ partial to Madeline‘s choices in life and the one to come, and Madeleine is an alternative girl, she is a devout vegan, goes to an alternative maternity clinic and has a back story that will separate her from the norm even further as the movie goes along.
But nothing lasts forever and after a shock car crash - that’s shock not shocking, because not much plays for punches here, it all just flows gently, gently but still disturbing slowly crawling into your head – Michael is dead and Madeleine is told by her midwife Patricia [Samantha Ferris] that her unborn child is dead… Letting go can be a hard thing and Madeline decides to carry the child full term and give birth to it anyways. And this is where this movie could have taken a different road, a typical hard ass conventional horror way and simply skip forward to the delivery filled with screaming music and sweaty doctors, because that’s what we are all building up to, but instead Solet lingers on emotions, and almost dwells on the morbidity and distressing despair that these women face. It’s a strong moment and definitely helps us empathise with Madeline and slip into the transition that soon will take us into the unusual world.
In an emotional birthing scene where both Madeline and Patricia share the birth tank as the child is delivered. It’s obviously stillborn, but the midwife and team go through the motions anyway to help Madeline with the closure. Patricia watches on monitors as Madeline, and as they later go back to check in on her, the baby is miraculously alive. She’s called Grace Madeline proclaims when Patricia says that its’ impossible. From here on the movie almost becomes a chamber piece as Madeleine and Grace start to get acquainted with each other. You know that there’s a twist coming along the way, and it certainly is delivered in a fashion that goes hand in hand with the mood and ambience of the piece. Again there’s no sudden frizzle frazzle effects and orgasmic burst of audio, it all plays for a smooth ride, which slowly builds the atmosphere of the movie perfectly.
Grace is a well-written, well-acted and well-made movie. I like it, I like it a lot, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and it definitely has something. It moves slowly and it’s not too obvious in its narrative. It also taps into the most primal fears of pregnancy, motherhood and parenting. Character wise Madeline is fascinating; she’s a anally retentive vegan who goes to the extremes to settle her child’s blood lust, now that’s a conflict of moral ethics if there ever was one. The supporting cast may be weak as far as characters go – with Rose being the second exception - but I see this as being due to the fantastic performance Jordan Ladd gives as Madeline.
There’s a great use of ironic subplots to be found if you keep your eyes peeled, one obviously being the constant “vegan horror” that plays on the TV screens which are hilarious metaphors for what Madeline is going through and relating to. If you know any woman who has breastfed a child, you will at one point in time have heard her complain that she feels like an animal with the only purpose being to feed that baby. Not to mention sore nipples, which the movie also manages to cover in a splendid fashion on several occasions.
There’s a lot of motherhood related threads at play, there’s the strong urge of Madeleine being determined to be a mother in her own way, there’s Vivian – Michaels’ mother – who is convinced that she is the better mother, and she has an aggressive biological reaction, and even though she age wise passed menopause a long time ago she starts to lactate. The emotional damage of losing her own child and Madeline keeping hers, her child’s child, are strong and her biological reaction is with the intent to take Grace as a replacement for Michael, her own lost child.
Grace also uses a fascinating amount of sensory repulsion that triggers sensations whilst watching. There are the obvious ones, like the flies that swarm the baby and crawl up its nose – flies repulse us and we don’t want them on our children. The sores and rashes that tarnish the baby – it’s not how we want to see this symbol of purity - all damaged and scabby. And perhaps the most advanced one, the odours that come with a child. There is a whole new world that opens up when you start life with a small child, strange previously unknown odours that at times can make you gag, but at the same time attract you. It’s fucking strange, most likely some primal shit rooted in our programming, but it’s there and Grace captures it every now and again. Which is fascinating, because there’s no real way of telling your audience what these odours are like. Anyone who has smelled an umbilical cord stump before it drops off will know exactly what I mean.
Finally I ask the question if Solet has with a Ridley Scott fetish? The theme of motherhood is the backbone of Scott’s Alien 1979, and even more in Cameron’s Aliens 1986 – just like Grace. The cat on the Nostromo is called Jonesy – just like Madeline’s cat. A cat that elegantly links Madeline’s past with Patricia in the narrative, and the final minutes of the movie definitely hold a Thelma & Louise 1991 vibe to them. That’s before the last subtle, but haunting reveal is exposed in a scene that would have Peter Bark crying with envy.
I’m convinced that Grace will disappoint a lot of viewers who go by the hype of the Sundance faintings and vomitings and expect to see a gore drenched grotesque fest, but at the same time I’m sure that its one of those movies that will earn a steady cult following and mature into a modern classic like the one’s mentioned above in the years to come.
Dolby Digital 5.1. English Dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic subtitles are optional.