At The Picture Show
Hail Madeline, full of 'Grace'...
'Grace' is a noble attempt at classic psychological horror, but fails to strike a chord
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