9.24.2009

Grace (2009): Go ahead, hate me for not liking this movie.




An inevitably unpopular (and long) review of unfortunate indie horror.

When I first heard about the premise of Grace, I immediately wondered how a film that made me think of It’s Alive could be rendered in seriousness. Grace promised to be a dramatic, brooding horror film centered around a young woman who decides to carry her deceased fetus to term only to eventually discover a “living” infant that craves human blood. So basically, it’s a psychotic mommy that must find a way to keep her zombie baby satiated.

What do you mean I'm craaaazy?

Despite the quirky concept, Grace is a deadpan film. In fact, it even has an air of pretention about it. Scenes that linger with feelings instead of purpose, characters with forced psychoses, and new age hippy jabs that aren't paid off. All these things make Grace a perfect contender for the arthouse-drama-suckers at Sundance (no offense to the festival as a whole), but I’m not biting. There’s nothing innately wrong with art-horror or slow burns. Nor does the film need to be shoehorned into the horror genre. Eyes Without  a Face, Peeping Tom, or the works of Jess Franco and Dario Argento are some examples of the genre-bending, intellectualism, avant-garde, etc that have molded the international horror scene. Grace, which I can respect for stepping into such rarely-explored territories in American cinema, reminds me of a less disastrous Vinyan.    

Baby Grace before she gets big.

The first issue I had with Grace is the characters. They come in two forms: crazy and impotent. While Jordan Ladd certainly doesn’t deliver a poor performance as Madeline, Paul Solet’s direction leads to a lackluster heroine, one that resembles an empty shell who just lets things happen instead of a character that takes action. From the first couple of scenes, we see that Madeline doesn’t really love her husband and is obsessed with having a child beyond all else—so much so that she left her lesbian companion from college for the first sperm shooter she could find. In fact, the death of her husband hardly phases her. It’s also grossly smoothed over by the filmmakers to boot. Madeline’s psychotic tendencies are established early on, but it doesn’t ever feel like a genuine portrayal of maternal obsession. Her mother-in-law, Vivian, is pretty much the same person as she is. Yet, I suppose that Vivian is to be considered the film’s antagonist. We don’t get a foil, we get a carbon copy. Not one, but two psycho mommies who obsess over their offspring. How we are supposed to cheer for Madeline and simultaneously despise Vivian, I am not sure. I hated them both, as they each cling at any chance to nurture a child no matter who they hurt in the process.  

Giving birth to zombies is painful. Also see Dawn of the Dead remake.

The men of this film are equally unlikeable. Madeline’s husband, Michael, is impotent—not because he can’t impregnate his wife, but he lets the women of his life push him around. A momma’s boy with no backbone. Terrific. A throw-away character that’s just in the way of the real story. The funniest thing about his character is how much he sucks at driving. In one of the most poorly executed car crashes I’ve seen in a credible film, he somehow dies after an air bag goes off in his face. The scene feels lazy and nothing more than a cursory step to getting rid of the husband character for storytelling convenience. When Madeline crawls out of the vehicle, she doesn’t even care that her husband is dead. Her only concern is her baby.  I couldn’t help but think of how well a similar situation worked in Inside—portraying the loss of a husband and the sorrow of raising a child alone in a poetic yet creepy manner. All the sincerity I felt in Inside is absent here. The other husband to the mother-in-law is also just as impotent, allowing Vivian to treat him like dirt and even fulfilling her sick obsession with motherhood by sucking on her nipples as if he was nursing. Paul Solet’s world of spineless men is only rescued by one character. Patricia, Madeline’s ex-lover and midwife, is the saving grace (pun intended of course) of the lineup. As far as I was concerned, she was the standout performance and the only person with an ounce of moral fiber or courage. If it weren’t for Samatha Ferri’s acting talents, I don’t think any of the subtext would have came through.

I could make a joke, but I won't.

My second big complaint with Grace is how long it takes for Madeline to figure out that her beloved infant needs blood. It’s about an hour into the movie until we actually get to the advertised setup of the film: a mother who would kill for her child. By the time it happens, it’s half-hearted and anti-climatic, especially since the movie is only 85 minutes long. What happens during the second act? I hardly remember. Lots of CG flies, some grocery shopping, nipple biting, fly swatting, and my personal favorite: CG flies buzzing in and out of a fake baby’s nose. Yes, we get it, baby Grace becomes a rotting corpse that attracts flies if she doesn’t get blood. I wanted to get to meat of the story,  but Grace only skims the surface. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to make a humorless zombie baby movie about the bond of motherhood, then you better give me a damn good portrayal of desperation. I wanted to see the struggle, the realization, the insanity that ensues when a woman decides to murder for the love of her baby. Otherwise, I’m not interested. The filmmakers also set up Madeline’s aversion for meat and her hippy feminist ways with trite exposition in the first act. You’d think that this would be paid off or somehow become important to the story later on, but it never really comes into play. I don’t buy that it’s more difficult to murder people and feed your child blood if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. Hitler was a vegetarian, so screw that concept.

She's going organic. No formulas here.

I’m not one to tear into a movie without acknowledging where it is successful. Usually, if I don’t appreciate the story, I can find some technical features to talk about. However, I didn’t find Grace all that deserving of praise in that department either. Grace does boast good performances, especially by Jordan Ladd (Madeline), Gabrielle Rose (Vivian), and Samantha Ferris (Patricia), but Solet’s direction makes them less impactful than they could have been. The cinematography had its moments, but also had some technical problems with unintended lens flares and goofy framing, which probably wasn’t helped by the editing. The out-of-focus effects were working at times, but blatantly overused. The color scheme and visual design did establish a somber tone that was well-suited for the subject matter. The major pain in my side was the atrocious sound mixing. I eventually decided to watch the film with subtitles to keep from adjusting the volume every two minutes. Maybe it’s just the DVD? But, it sure didn’t seem like it when Patricia’s dialogue was at least four times louder than Madeline’s in the same scene. I tried not to let something petty like that get in the way of enjoying the film. While I’m sure Solet’s creative choices were careful decisions, I can’t say that these choices led to a great example of filmmaking.

I think you can guess why her nightgown is stained.

I think Grace may have worked better if it didn’t take itself so seriously. Come on, it’s a zombie baby movie. Why not have a laugh or two? I know that I’m going to get some backlash about this one, but I just don’t see the same artistic merit or entertainment value everyone else did. Maybe fans have been so numbed by remakes and Hollywood slickness that any American indie horror hybrid with some originality becomes a quick stimulant emerging from a desire to see new things. After reading hordes of positive reviews on Grace (which I whole-heartedly respect), I am beginning to wonder if there is anyone else that feels the same? Or am I the only one who was underwhelmed?

13 comments:

  1. My take on point #2: I almost would have preferred that the supernatural aspects had been left out entirely, because many of the points of the film that frightened me most were those rooted in reality. The fears of losing a child, post-partem depression, all of those things just tied knots in my stomach, and I honestly forgot about the parasitic elements until the unfortunate breast feeding sequence.

    I really enjoyed the film, but while I rated it a 9 on my board, its also important to keep in mind that my Indie Horror ratings are rated on a sliding scale. I definitely think the film is far better than a majority of the Indie efforts hitting DVD lately, but I can definitely appreciate your points here B!

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  2. Despite liking the film, I was underwhelmed too. It didn't go where I thought it might, nor push the limits like I'd hoped, but I liked a lot about it. I was VERY mixed about how I felt after seeing it though, and honestly still am.

    Also, I absolutely don't get how people passed out at Sundance while watching this. Either they were frail to begin with, or they lied.

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  3. P.S. I hate you.

    Really though, how could anyone hate you for not liking a movie? :)

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  4. I haven't watched it, so I can't claim to feel the same or to "not like it". But I'm not the slightest bit interested in seeing it, either, if that helps ya out any. Between 'BABY BLOOD' (eh, whatever) and "IT'S ALIVE" (good stuff) and "INSIDE" (loooved it) I can do without any more pre-natal/post-partum horror offerings.

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  5. I don't have time to read your full review right now, but I agree with you. I thought this movie was lame. If Paul Solet wasn't such a big guy who could probably kick my ass, I would tell him to his face and probably challenge him to a fight.

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  6. Man, I still haven't watched this movie.

    Here's a quick question:

    My wife is pregnant and not horror crazed or anything but she will watch a lot of horror flicks with me. So - do you think it would be something that she could watch and not freak out over?

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  7. I didn't like this movie either, way to slow for me and what was there was far too "subtle" for me to enjoy. AND, like you said, Patricia was the only character I liked.

    I hated how the movie seemed to spit in the face of people who were vegetarian etc, they made it look ridiculous.

    Oh, but FYI, Hitler wasn't a vegetarian - he went for a vegetarian diet when he was older because he suffered from stomach problems due to excessive meat eating, his doctor recommended it.

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  8. Thanks for not ripping into me guys! Haha, the internet can be a not-so-tolerant place.

    Warfreak- Some people found Grace very disturbing , but I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. There are some nasty images of a dead infant and some nipple gore. If you want to stay on the safe side, I would avoid it, but if I was pregnant, I don't think it would bother me.

    Zac, I've hard that Hitler went in and out of vegetarianism. And that, he did occasionally eat meat, but aside from his doctor's recommendation there was anti-semitic references as well. He is on record with statements about the future of the human race being vegetarian. Either way, vegetarians or carnivores...people's eating habits shouldn't be that much of an issue in terms of character.

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  9. For wife and I, it was the simple scene of her sitting against the tree bleeding. My wife has HUGE issues with pregnancy and it just made her sick. The same fears carried over into the birthing sequences, and it was the psychological intensity of those two scenes combined that caused people to pass out, not the mild gore and zombie baby later in the film.

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  10. Your review pretty much sums it all up for me. The movie was okay in a few aspects, but for the most part it left me feeling kind of "blah." I guess I liked it alright, but it wasn't very good.
    Concerning the death of the husband, you might want to check out the Grace shortfilm I posted the other day. He's a bit of a different personality in it, and his death is kind of more 'explained', you could say.
    Nice review :) No one is gonna hate you for it, lol. I think most people were on the fence about this movie. After reading your review it's like "ohhhh. exactly."

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  11. "DAMNIT YOU CANT WILL A BABY BACK, WOMAN!".
    "YES, I CAN AN I WILL CALL HER GRACE".
    "Ah shit."

    Really what this movie is about is not trusting lesbians spy women who take mens sperm and let them die in car wrecks. Oh dont forget about the excessive old woman boob action. Men who arent into fruity indy crap beware....

    I agree on most of your points... cept that hitler was a veghead. He used to drink the blood of the jews and tear their raw flesh from the rhine.

    As you mentioned we didn't really get anywhere in the movie until an hour into it... and in a film that is an hour and twenty something... thats bad. The useless oldwoman breast milking and vegitarian stuff... sigh. Good points.

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  12. I JUST got done watching this flick. Didn't care for it at all. Too serious for it's own good. And the constant references to Repulsion were tiring after a while. Lame flick.

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  13. Lemmy,

    I actually haven't seen Repulsion yet, but I just got it from Netflix. It's been on my to-watch list for quite some time. I'm looking forward to it, but hopefully Grace won't spoil it now that I've seen them in the opposite order.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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