MAY 18, 2009
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
As I near 1000 reviews for Horror Movie A Day (!!!), I find myself trying to think of films that truly disturbed or unnerved me. Very few come to mind, and some, like Last House In The Woods, merely made me gag or momentarily queasy. Others, such as Martyrs, just made me feel a bit apologetic, as the neighbors could probably hear the sound of a woman screaming for nearly 40 minutes straight. Really, there are only two that I can think of that truly left me uncomfortable, giving me that whole “still thinking about it the next day” reaction I always hear about but rarely experience. One is Dread, which I just saw last week, and now we have Grace, which is another film that seems designed to make carnivores rethink their ways, amongst other things.
As Grace is not out yet, I have no desire to spoil any of the film beyond what you may know from reading about it on horror sites. It’s about a woman named Madeline (played by Jordan Ladd, carrying the film and doing a pretty damn good job if I do say so my damn self) who is in a car crash near the end of her pregnancy, which kills her husband and her unborn child. However, she decides to carry the fetus to term, against the wishes of pretty much everyone else in her life. And when the baby (Grace) is born, Madeline’s seemingly insane desire proves to be the right call, as Grace suddenly returns to life. But something’s wrong with her eating habits...
And that’s all I’d like to say for now. Unlike most horror films, this is the type of movie that demands a “the less you know the better” approach. Furthermore, I urge you NOT to watch the trailer that is currently online, as it gives away more than I would have liked even for a regular movie. I can understand why they would want to entice viewers by showing them some “highlights”, but this is not a slasher movie. Its success stems from the subtle storytelling, the realistic approach, and the unnerving tone that the film conveys almost from the start, with occasional jolts of surprising violence that should be as shocking to the audience as they are to the characters. The trailer, in my opinion, severely dulls the effectiveness of those moments.
Luckily for writer/director Paul Solet, the film as a whole still works as intended. This is not a crowd-pleasing, applaud at the ending type movie. There is only a single moment of levity in the entire film, and even that is only “funny” if you recognize the person saying the line. And like I said earlier, it sticks with you. The movie seems to be making a slight dig at vegetarianism, but at the same time, it doesn’t exactly glorify the act of getting meat from a butcher shop. Hell, I made myself a roast beef sandwich the next morning, and had to pause for a moment to consider whether I should just have some soup instead. Speaking of food, it’s amazing how Solet and his DP (Zoran Popovic) managed to make me feel uneasy just from someone eating a salad, and that’s before Grace is born. Closeups of shredded lettuce and other ingredients managed to make me as uncomfortable as the occasional bloodshed, and I don’t think I’ll ever touch another glass of soy milk.
The film is a feature version of a short film that Solet did a few years ago. I have never seen the short, but I think I can spot the things that were added to help pad the film out to a feature length. However, unlike some films (Sam’s Lake comes to mind), I never got the impression that they were reaching to get to an 80 minute runtime; if anything, these scenes (mostly revolving around Madeline’s mother-in-law) just help extend the uneasy feeling the Madeline/Grace scenes provide. Slightly less successful is a subplot about Madeline’s midwife, with whom she had a lesbian affair with in college. The woman is clearly still in love with Madeline, and dreams of going off together with her and the baby. It’s not damaging in any way, but it’s also slightly underdeveloped, and the two characters are kept apart for a large chunk of the film that keeps the subplot’s resolution from having as much of an impact as it could if they had another scene or two together. However, the upside to that is that by not stopping to discuss their relationship history, the film never really eases up on the tension.
Now, as you might have figured out by now, I am not a woman. I will more than likely never be pregnant, so in a way it’s even more impressive how upsetting the various scenes that revolve around motherhood were (it’s worth noting that the two folks who reportedly fainted during the film’s Sundance premiere were both dudes). Show me a guy getting his head cut off or intestines pulled out, and I’m fine. Show me a woman leaking blood from a troubled pregnancy, and I need to look at the floor for a while. The difference is, of course, that Madeline’s troubles are realistically depicted, and Solet never goes for cheap shock value (this ain’t It’s Alive). And the film never betrays that realistic tone; even though the plot may seem slightly outlandish, it always feels 100% real, which is damn near unheard of in a horror movie, even those based on true stories.
Plus, the movie is just damned sad. Grace is Madeline’s 3rd attempt at having a child, and I’m sure she would have preferred a normal pregnancy, and that her husband be alive to watch the child grow. It’s strange to think, but despite the fact that 99.999999% of horror movies have someone die (damn you Poltergeist!), it’s rare that any of them really deal with grief. And we are spared melodrama; Ladd doesn’t curl up with her husband’s favorite sweater or stare longingly at their wedding photo or any of that Lifetime movie nonsense. But Ladd conveys the loss all the same, as does the mother-in-law, who grieves in a wholly different and rather icky way.
And what the hell? This is the 2nd film in a row that depicted a nipple in the most horrifying state possible. After teeth, any sort of infliction on a nipple causes me serious discomfort. And unlike Big Man Japan, it’s not played for laughs here, so I don’t care for this coincidence. If tomorrow’s Drag Me To Hell has any nipple-based horror, I am quitting Horror Movie A Day for good.
In short, no, this movie won’t be for everyone. It’s slightly depressing, it’s not built around spectacle or jump scares, and it’s unnerving to the point where I wanted to ask if we could pause it for a while (I suspect DVD viewers will find themselves taking “breathers”, something a captive theatergoer cannot do). It’s - shock - a horror film for intelligent adults, and kudos to Solet, producer Adam Green, and everyone else for NOT taking the easy route by pooling their talent and resources only to make a typical horror film, as others would. Anchor Bay will be distributing the film, and I hope to hell it gets a release at least as big as Hatchet’s, if not larger. Movies like this could help change their image from “the guys who put out Evil Dead DVDs” to “the guys who release really great horror movies that the big studios never would”.
What say you?