Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2009

Hail Madeline, full of 'Grace'...

'Grace' is a noble attempt at classic psychological horror, but fails to strike a chord

Leomax Entertainment
Director: Paul Solet
Screenplay: Paul Solet
Starring: Jordan Ladd, Samantha Ferris, Gabrielle Rose, Stephen Park, Serge Houde, Kate Herriot and Malcolm Stewart
Rated R / 1 hour, 25 minutes
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray
(out of four)

From the time Paul Solet's Grace premiered at Sundance this past January (incidentally, the first Sundance I've missed since 2001), I began hearing the Polanski comparisons. Having finally seen the film for myself, I can categorically debunk those rumors.

Look - just because a movie apes elements of Repulsion (and, to a lesser extent, Rosemary's Baby) doesn't mean it's any kind of equivalent. Can't we separate what a film is doing from how it's doing it?

On one hand, I admire Solet for drawing inspiration from one of the masters - especially one whose excursions in atmospheric and psychological horror put virtually everyone else to shame. And this film's affection for Polanski is clear in virtually every scene. The heroine's thick blond hair falling down lazily over her shoulders, the sheer nightgown she walks around in, the way she keeps herself barricaded in a home that seems to be rotting to its core - all straight out of Repulsion. And that's just for starters.

Like I said, I certainly don't begrudge the film its influences. But what I can do is point out how wrong it goes - especially compared to what it clearly wants to be. There is something intangible about creating atmosphere that great directors seem to instinctively be able to capture. In the case of a horror movie, it's a certain something that doesn't quite feel right, something unsettling that gets under our skin. Something about the way the characters are positioned in the frame; some subconscious signal in that last shot.

Maybe I'm rambling, but whatever those intangibles are, Grace simply doesn't have them. It always feels like an exercise in imitation rather than the genuine article - and when you're trying to lull an audience into a sense of fear or distress or anxiety, it's gotta be the real thing.

In Grace's case, the problem seems to be that Solet makes his intentions clear too early, and too overtly. We meet a very pregnant Madeline (Jordan Ladd) early on in a dinner with her husband and in-laws. From the scene's first moments, no secret is made of the fact that the mother-in-law, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose) is set up as our adversary.

While Madeline is insisting on using a midwife in a sort of new-age facility, Vivian wants her to go the traditional route, at a traditional hospital with traditional doctors. And so when Madeline gets sent to the hospital one night with chest pains, Vivian immediately sends in her family doctor to induce labor - Bad Guy alert! - against her daughter-in-law's wishes.

Thankfully, the dear midwife (Samantha Ferris) arrives in time to save the day, but Madeline and her husband get in a car crash on the way home. He is killed instantly, and their unborn child appears to have died as well.

However, despite an apparent stillbirth a couple of weeks later, the baby, Grace, comes alive in her mother's arms. Now here's where things start to get handled with even less subtlety. Over the next little while, we come to find out certain details about Grace - and Madeline's parenting techniques. Yet before there's any hint that anything is awry, the midwife's assistant is already insisting that Madeline is "sick" and must be taken care of.

I think this is meant to throw us off track - perhaps convince us that Grace really isn't alive, that Madeline has gone nuts and is carrying a corpse around the house (or something similarly Poe-ish), and that everyone realizes it but her. But that's not the case - and when we discover what really is going on with Grace, certain moments from earlier in the film make even less sense. For quite some time, there's no reason for anyone - except Madeline - to assume anything has gone wrong. And yet Solet keeps pretending that a sense of paranoia or apprehension is permeating everyone involved. In reality, he's simply jumping the gun.

That seems to be his M.O. throughout the film, in fact - instead of learning from the films he was influenced by and really letting things boil, he makes things all too obvious, stripping them of any sense of mystery, danger or dread.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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