There’s something not quite right about Madeline’s new baby daughter. It shouldn’t matter that the doctor said the baby wouldn’t live, or that after the birth the midwife tried to pry the baby’s seemingly lifeless body from her mother’s grasp. Through some sheer miracle, and the power of a mother’s love, the infant stirs and cries. She lives. Her name is Grace.
Grace, the latest entry into the “motherhood as horror” sub-genre takes what could’ve been an exercise in ludicrousness, something akin to I1974’s It’s Alive, but instead paints the story with an arid emptiness that gives the film a feeling of bleak dislocation. Sure, it could be described as a ‘zombie baby’ movie, but the focus is really on the mother instead of the child.
Jordan Ladd (Cabin Fever) stars as Madeline, a meek, new age vegetarian, who has a difficult time getting her voice heard amid the din of her over-achieving husband and domineering mother-in-law. After several attempts the couple is finally expecting a child, but late in the pregnancy tragedy strikes. A deadly car accident claims the life of the father and seriously injures Madeline to such a degree that the baby dies in utero. She insists on carrying the baby to term anyway and turns to a midwife, and her former lover, to aid in the doomed birth. The baby is alive….sort of.
At first, Grace appears and acts like any other newborn, but it isn’t long before the tell-tale signs begin to appear that something is definitely wrong. There is definitely no ‘new baby’ smell, in fact, there is a faint odor of decay that seems to always be present, plus there are those pesky houseflies that congregate around the crib. No matter, a bit of extra baby powder and some hanging fly paper will take care of that. It’s when Grace will no longer take her mother’s milk or formula that things start to get out of hand.
These events sound like the makings for a very trashy film, but writer/director Paul Solet, making his theatrical debut, instead grounds them in reality and treats them with just a very straight-forward manner. He skillfully avoids the potential luridness of the material by stripping down each scene to its bare essentials. It’s all boiled down to just one question: What would a new mother do in this situation?
Ladd’s performance is also key. By making Madeline such a milquetoast, she avoids the histrionics that might’ve plagued another actress and completely undermine the film. Even when the plot gears up into the more gruesome elements (after all, what would a zombie baby start craving for?), Madeline’s acts are strictly in the service of being the best mother she can be. It’s all about how to make Grace happy.
Eventually, Grace ends up painting itself into a corner; because once the situation is set there are really only so many places you can go with it. The unresolved ‘non-ending’ ending plays more to giving the audience a nod and a wink in a sort of Twlight Zone fashion, which doesn’t entirely jibe with the previous events.
All in all, Grace is an interesting, and fairly dark, piece of work, that is a good example of stripped down film making. If you have a good script, the budget (or lack thereof) isn’t really an issue. We’ll just have to wait and see what Solet will deliver next.
*Check out Earshot or Edward McKay Used Books & More to find a copy of Grace.