Grace is an astonishing film. Not only is it a return to the classic definition of gothic horror but it is also a new take on something that has been tried and failed at many times in the past: an undead baby. Grace has taken the relationship between mother and child and investigated it in new and creepy ways that will leave the audience cringing and holding themselves, regardless of gender.
Madeline Matheson leads an interesting life. She is 8 months pregnant, lives with her husband Michael, is vegan and believes in holistic medicine. She is looked down upon by her mother-in-law and, to a certain extent, her husband. After trying a number of traditional doctors, Madeline convinces her husband to go see a midwife. One their way back from the birthing clinic they get into a car accident that kills Michael and the baby instantly. Despite strenuous objections by her mother-in-law, Madeline decides to carry the baby to term and deliver naturally, even though all tests indicate that the infant has died. After a hard labour Madeline is allowed to hold the baby for a few moments by her midwife and long-time friend Patricia, despite the objections of the clinic staff. But when Patricia goes to take the baby, a miracle has seemingly happened – the baby is alive. After running some tests Madeline and the baby, called Grace, are cleared to go home where Madeline begins her lifelong dream of becoming a mother. There’s a few hiccups along the way though. Like the flies that seem to hover around the baby. Or that the baby can’t keep down breast milk. Or that the gentlest of baby soaps give her a rash. Stranger still is when Grace bites her mother and begins to drink her blood, finally becoming completely satiated. Anemic and exhausted, Madeline must find a way to keep her precious Grace alive, while fighting an overbearing, meddling mother-in-law and trying to stay alive herself.
I realize that the plot description itself doesn’t sound all that creepy, however, it was in the execution that this movie shone. First is a fine performance by Jordan Ladd as Madeline. She genuinely carries whole sections of the movie herself with only selected scenes with a real baby, mostly acting with a rubber doll. She emulates a woman who has both lost and gained everything, only to risk losing it all again. She hides the pain of both her past and her present and provides the audience with a brilliant sense of the character, often with only nuances. Next is a truly brave portrayal by Gabrielle Rose of a woman who has been rocked to her core by the premature loss of her only child who, in her grief, turns to some very extreme measures to find a replacement for him. With two stand out performances writer-director Paul Solet only needed to provide an excellent background, which he did perfectly with a measured and understated pacing leaving up to some very tense and shocking moments.
Erring on the side of ‘less is more’, Solet creates a no-win situation. We want the baby to live, but we understand people have to die for that to happen. We want Madeline to have the baby she always dreamed of but we know what her life will hold if she continues to feed her. Evil babies are a concept that has been done often and usually ends in laughter. The babies themselves are hyper-animate, crawling towards house guests and devouring them, often looking like demons that their parents spend all their time hiding in shame. In Grace Solet has turned this concept on its head. Grace herself is the picture of her name. She is beautiful, blue-eyed and angelic. She coos and burps and plays with rattles, certainly not a demon or a menace. The script has been crafted in such a way that all decisions made by the characters are perfectly in character, even when it comes to helping a baby live by giving it what it needs. Instead of creating a demon the audience hates, Solet used the natural instincts we feel when towards a newborn and used it to unnerving effect.
Grace is, in my opinion, a near-perfect horror film. It is the kind of movie that stays with you and continues to challenge and disturb you days later, rather than simply shocking and startling you, which is easily forgettable. Grace is a must-see film for all horror fans but it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Toronto After Dark runs from August 14 to 21, 2009 at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto. Click here for our coverage.