Directed by Paul Solet, 2009. Starring Jordan Ladd, Samantha Ferris, Gabrielle Rose. 85 minutes.
Still reeling from an automobile accident that took the life of her husband Michael, Madeline Matheson gives birth to a stillborn child who miraculously comes back to life. Too bad baby Grace isn’t as innocent as she seems…
Grace starts with an impressive concept: Grace is a monster baby who develops bloody rashes (actually, they look like rashes but they’re probably rotting flesh), is highly attractive to flies, and drinks blood from her mother’s nipple, not milk. (The ending takes this to its logical conclusion, and boy, it’s a dilly, although the context makes no fucking sense at all.)
Look, here’s the awful truth: you need something other than a kick-ass concept to make a good horror movie. Assuming you’re not Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci, and you’re not such a genius with visuals that it doesn’t matter how little sense your story makes, then the best thing you can have on your side is a halfway-decent script with a decent plot. Grace doesn’t really have a story or a plot. What it has is probably best described as a sort of maze for rats, designed by a behavioral scientist, except in screenplay format. Every plot point seems like a contrivance with the purpose of keeping the story on a certain track. Of course, that’s purpose of plot points, but writer/director Paul Solet is never able to make the assembly of plot points appear to be an organically developing story.
You know what helps make an assembly of plot points appear to be an organically developing story? A set of credible characters. We don’t have many of these. Let’s start with Madeline, because she’s the protagonist. In my life, I have complained about many fictional characters, in books, in movies, and on television, that come off less as characters and more as “bundles of quirks and personality traits.” Madeline is just about the apex of this: she’s burdened with just about every possible left-wing belief, personality trait, behavioral pattern, and background experience. She’s a vegan, SUV-hating and hybrid-driving bisexual who took classes in women’s studies in college (it’s never explicitly stated, but to me there was a bit of an implication that women’s studies was her major), has an interest in non-traditional holistic medicine, and watches videos of animals being slaughtered for food because she’s apparently so concerned about animal rights. (And yet she has no idea how to take care of a cat: Michael makes a remark about her keeping the family cat on a vegetarian diet, but cats are obligate carnivores. They need meat protein as part of their diet and indeed have problems digesting plant matter. A vegan cat is not going to be a healthy cat. After a while on such a diet, it will probably be a dead cat. Of course, this could be a joke on Michael’s part, because the cat seems perfectly healthy…or maybe Solet didn’t bother doing his research on this one?) Now, are there people out there like this? I’m sure there are, but Madeline doesn’t seem to have all these traits because they help make her character; it feels like she has all these traits because Solet believes that they all go together as a matter of course. If you’ve got one or two of those traits, it stands to reason you have all of them.I can very easily imagine Solet thinking something along the lines of, “But this is what these people are like!” (Never mind that the closest people I know to Madeline don’t want to marry, don’t want children, don’t own cars at all, live in cities instead of suburbs, and certainly wouldn’t live in that house.)
It doesn’t help her credibility that she doesn’t seem to have much in common with meat-eating, hybrid SUV-driving Michael. Their marriage seems to have lasted several years, despite the tensions caused by a disapproving mother-in-law, three miscarriages, and the fact that Michael is such an asshole that he browbeats Madeline the sensitive vegan into cooking raw, bloody cuts of liver for him. (Although I gotta say, that liver is less disgusting than the tofu dish Madeline serves for Michael and his mother at the beginning of the film. Lucio Fulci would have a hard time coming up with something that revolting.)
Most reviews I’ve read of Grace praise its portrayal of Madeline’s “descent into madness,” which is a bit of an inaccurate phrase because it implies that Madeline isn’t a loon at the start of the movie. Still, it’s true that Madeline is only credible when she’s batshit raving bonkers. I’m tempted to say that Jordan Ladd isn’t a skilled enough actress to overcome the deficiencies in the writing during the earlier scenes, but to be honest…while I’ve never been impressed with any acting job Ladd’s ever done (admittedly, I’ve only two films with her in them: Cabin Fever and Grindhouse), I can’t imagine that any actress who isn’t a hundred degrees of magnitude better than Ladd could have made anything of the early stages of the role.
None of the other characters feel any less contrived. Vivian, Madeline’s mother-in-law (technically, this makes her Michael’s mother, although I never found myself thinking in those terms), is a one-dimensional domineering personality driven to bend everyone and everything to her will, which must help her out quite a bit in her chosen profession as a judge. And don’t even get me started on the subject of the midwife’s lover, whose name is Shelly but would be more accurately named Lesbian O’Bstacle, since her only function in the story is to keep the storyline from moving onto a less contrived plot track.
It’s really a shame, because Grace does have potential. It’s got a nice little visual aesthetic—not amazingly original, but Solet’s definitely got some talent that deserves to be developed—and some delightfully striking images, most of which involve gouts of blood erupting from Madeline’s vagina. I really wanted to like Grace, but in the end, I just couldn’t. The horrifically deficient script just kept getting in the way.
Moment of Zen
That disgusting, disgusting tofu.