Synopsis: Eight months pregnant and fed up with traditional medicine, Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) opts for the companionship of a trusted midwife. Though reluctant, her husband remains supportive of her choices until a sudden tragic accident leaves her unborn baby lifeless inside her. Madeline remains determined to carry her dead child to term and deliver naturally, but when she delivers the stillborn, the power of her love restores the child to life. Soon, however, the increasingly isolated mother realizes the miracle is not without consequence. Something isn’t right with baby Grace. In order to keep her child alive, Madeline is faced with ultimate sacrifice.
eyelights: the creepy concept. the overall chilling vibe.
eyesores: the facile last act. the corny ending.
“Please, you don’t understand. She’s special. She needs… special food.”
‘Grace is the story of an eager mother who, after surviving a car accident that kills her spouse, decides to carry her daughter to term – even though it is apparently dead in her womb. With the aid of a devoted and caring midwife, who believes the woman needs to do this to get beyond her trauma, she eventually gives birth to this still born child… and decides to keep it.
‘Grace’ is one of those movies I probably wouldn’t have come anywhere close to if not for a friend’s frequent and enthusiastic recommendations. The artwork, although appropriately creepy, put me off somewhat: the juxtaposition of a baby bottle with a fly just didn’t sit well with me – it suggested death and/or filth, which I just didn’t want to think of this in the context of childhood.
Especially in a horror film.
However, after much hesitation, I eventually relented – prompted by the opportunity to get the DVD for a coupla bucks (i.e. even less than a rental).
But it stayed on my shelf, and I wasn’t sure when I would muster up the courage to watch it. Again, the impression of filth gave me a bad vibe and I couldn’t get beyond it. But it so happened that I was watching a slate of films involving babies and/or children, and I started to consider it. It was only after ‘Insidious’ failed to fit the bill (it was good, but wasn’t really about children) that I gave it a chance.
In all sincerity, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t nearly as scary or creepy as my friend would have made me believe, but it was pretty darned good. The quote on the DVD box, which suggests that it’s more like a Stephen King story than “a splatter-fest” (and which finally sold me on the picture) has it mostly right: it’s a chilling tale that slowly simmers to a boil.
The key difference is that there is a lot more blood than in a King story. That’s not to say that it’s particularly grisly, but ‘Grace’ serves up a fair bit of bloodletting – of all kinds, most of which is not violence-based. So anyone who gets queasy at the sight of blood should probably abstain from watching this; there are puddles, drips and stains galore – it’s not a pretty sight. Not one bit.
Mostly, though, the film depends on atmosphere to instill a sense of dread. It takes its time to set-up the story and characters, which is something that I relished. It was slightly heavy-handed at times but it explained the characters’ decisions relatively well. So, by the time that Madeline decides to keep her child, we understand why she’s doing it (and why she’s being helped).
We even empathize with her.
This is the saving grace of the picture, really: we’re not just watching someone who is ill, we are watching someone who is desperate and has thus gone over the edge. But we understand what took her to this dark place, so the film isn’t gratuitous or exploitative; while we don’t agree with the choices she makes, we can get into her skin – which makes her decisions no less horrifying.
‘Grace’ is all about character, character and character. It’s focused on three equally unconventional and uniquely interesting women: Madeline, our protagonist, Patricia, the midwife, and Vivian, Madeline’s mother-in-law. Each have their own very personal motivations, and all of it serves the plot, even as they define and flesh out the characters, making them sympathetic in each their own way.
- In Madeline, we find a woman who has lost so much that she clings to what little she has left, even if she is delusional about the consequences. After two miscarriages, she is absolutely desperate to get pregnant, and will do everything she can to ensure that she will have a child – even more so after her spouse is no longer with her. Isolated, alone and hollowed out by events, Grace is the only lifeline that she has – although it leaves her with a tenuous line to sanity. I loved to see how intensely focused she was, her will transcending death itself.
- Patricia believes deeply in her alternative way of life, and has surrounded herself with similarly-minded people, giving her support and strength. However, she is also capable of confronting opposition on her own – she is fiercely independent and self-assured. When Madeline ends up in the hospital and a doctor decides to induce labour, Patricia doesn’t hesitate one bit to stand in the way and ultimately proves him wrong. Her feelings for Madeline complicate matters for her, but will prove essential at a few key moments. She was by far the easiest to root for; she’s the hero of the piece.
- Vivian is an uptight control freak. Having lost her son, she slowly becomes obsessed with filling the void, with mothering again. Her slowly building obsession, which includes pumping breast milk, relates how decimated she was by the events. Her decision to rip Grace from Madeline’s grasp, as callous as that is, is entirely understandable, and actress Gabrielle Rose ensured that Vivian becomes sympathetic enough that we cared about her despite her behaviour. I am particularly fond of the moment when she “breast feeds” her husband: it was beautiful, sad and erotic all at once – in one simple gesture, one short moment. What a bold move by Rose this was, especially given her age.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
I was ready to give this picture an 8.0 until the third act, when the doctor comes to visit Madeline – after which it dropped to 7.75.The fact that she would open up the door thinking it was Patricia, even though she’d been obsessively cautious until then was completely out of character. One could argue that she was extremely anemic and, thus, was not herself, but, given the intensity of her devotion to Grace and her desire to keep her protected, I think that this would ultimately over-ride even her greatest weaknesses.
To make things worse, Vivian showed up only to find the front door left ajar. Again, for the reasons stated above, this seems veritably unlikely, if not patently absurd. At the very least, the doctor would close the door behind him, even if Madeline failed to lock it all up. This was such a cheap way for the mother-in-law to be allowed in that I felt cheated, as though the writers couldn’t be bothered.
Continuing in that vein, Patricia later showed up, coming in through the back door – which was also open. I mean, seriously, there is no way that this would happen. On top of that, she barreled straight to Madeline, as though she already knew where to find her – an obvious directorial error, because she should have at least hesitated for a split second, if not longer. Cheap cheap cheap.
On top of this, well before Patricia arrived, the whole sequence between Madeline and Vivian felt unrealistic to me:
Finally, the closing sequence, with Madeline and Patricia on the road, was completely unnecessary. While the idea that the daughter is teething is certainly an inspired one (it leaves room for all sorts of disturbing thoughts – and possible sequels), it was done really poorly and nonsensically.
Plus which those cheap wigs the actresses wore ruined it for me. I think that the film should have ended right before then.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
‘Grace’ works because it starts with an gruesome premise, takes it to an unnatural level, but makes the human beings feel real and relatable to a reasonable extent. It basically shows us what would happen if this impossible scenario actually did transpire, without explaining how it did. So long as we accept this conceit, we can buy into the things these people do – given the circumstances.
Where the film stumbles is in the final act, when the behaviours don’t seem entirely plausible anymore. However, well until then, ‘Grace’ sustains itself by focusing on one mother’s undying devotion to her child, at all costs. It’s a descent into madness that is rarely executed as ably and it’s worth seeing by any fan of psychological horror who can stomach its ghastliness.
Date of viewing: October 14, 2013