I had been made aware of the New York engagement of Grace--one of only two in the country--by Johnny Boots of Freddy in Space. Unfortunately, Johnny and his betrothed were unable to attend the screening as we had originally planned. But boy, am I glad I went anyway. And special kudos go out to Mrs. B-Sol, who was a good enough sport to tag along with me. Reminded me of the college days when she would follow me to the city in search of Godzilla Trendmaster figures without so much as a peep.
Going in, I had imagined Grace would be this year's Inside, and I wasn't far off the mark. After it was over, I found myself trying to figure out which movie was sicker, and came to the conclusion that it was pretty much a dead heat. As a pure horror film, I think Inside works just a bit better. But as a film, period, I would say that Grace is a better all-around picture.
What I found particularly interesting was the manner in which motherhood and the female identity are explored in relation to one another. The movie is populated by female characters who, in one way or another, wind up defining themselves by the nature of their maternal actions and instincts. This is the debut film of writer/directer Paul Solet, and good Lord is this going to be a tough act to follow. Solet received college degrees in both film and psychology, and both of those areas of expertise are on full display here.
But hands down, the film's most disturbing performance comes from Canadian actress Gabrielle Rose as Madeline's mother-in-law from hell, Vivian Matheson. Her character is utterly depraved, a single-mindedly obsessed control freak who will stop at nothing to seperate Madeline from her baby. A clinging, obsessive mother who yearns for the sense of meaning that motherhood once provided, Vivian is chilling in every scene she inhabits. There is one scene, in particular, in which Vivian coaxes her unwitting husband into sucking her nipple just so she can be reminded of what it felt like to breastfeed, that is more upsetting than any moment of gore or violence in the entire movie.
Desperate to provide her baby with the plasma she needs to live, Madeline first gives her own--but when she can no longer do so without killing herself, she finds herself doing the unthinkable. And yet, the moral question isn't an easy one--after all, what would you do if your baby required as steady diet of blood, or it would die? As we viewed the film's most gore-iffic scene, in which Madeline literally taps a body for blood like an animal in an abattoir, I turned to my wife and asked non-chalantly, half-jokingly, if she would be able to do something like that for our kids. And without missing a beat, she responded in the unflinching affirmative. Mothers and their babies, people--don't mess with it.
We are almost led to believe that Madeline's husband was only there to create the baby she so wanted in her life. In fact, it seems that Madeline may not even be heterosexual at all, as we later learn that her midwife is actually a former love interest, for whom she shows far greater affection than we ever see directed toward her husband. There are complex issues of womanhood, motherhood, and femininity in general at work here, and I fear I cannot fully do them justice after just a single viewing.
After an hour and a half of difficult film viewing, capped off by a deeply twisted final moment that will stay with you long after you've left the theater, I sat there in utter silence, as did everyone else. In fact, I can honestly say this is the only time I can recall an entire theater of people sitting silently in their seats through an entire closing credits sequence. And then, just as the final credits rolled, a dedication fills the entire screen: "For Mom." The entire audience bursts into nervous laughter. Bless you Paul Solet, you sick bastard.
It's also ironic that horror superstar director Adam Green is one of the producers, as Grace shows more depth, nuance and substance than anything Green has yet to create himself.
This is the kind of a film that begs for post-viewing discussion, which Mrs. B-Sol and myself were compelled to engage in as we walked the streets of Manhattan back to our car. On the way, we stopped into Veniero's historic bakery on East 11th and 2nd Avenue, where 80 years ago, my adolescent great-uncle once worked as a delivery boy, losing his life after suffering a fatal concussion on a subway platform while carrying a box of Italian pastries to their destination. Walking away with a pound of delicious pignoli cookies and lemon drops, I couldn't help but be reminded again of that bizarre, unavoidable connection between life and death.