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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Amazing GRACE

Where to begin?

Yesterday was one of those days of pure bliss for me as a fan of genre entertainment. In the day, I experienced the absolutely spellbinding instant science fiction classic District 9. At night, I was all set to head to New York City for a special screening of the controversial Grace. After District 9, I was kind of thinking Grace would inevitably wind up being a letdown. I was wrong.

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.

We arrived at the Village East Cinema in the heart of the East Village, the neighborhood formerly known as the Lower East Side, where a century ago, my great-grandparents settled down to make a new life for themselves. But that's not what tonight was all about. Tonight was about a journey into mind-wrenching horror--and we certainly got what we came for.

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.

Both films deal with issues of motherhood, particularly with the perversion of motherhood, as well as the inextricable connections between birth and death, as well as between sex and death. There are a lot of layers at work, and it will take multiple viewings of Grace to truly absorb them all, which is admittedly not something I'm particularly relishing. Not because the film wasn't incredible, which it was. But rather, because--much like I said about Inside--it's a movie that challenges the definition of "entertainment". Quite simply, it is a harrowing work. A difficult yet exhilarating view that we as horror fans need every once in a while. This is no "fun" horror movie, a la Drag Me to Hell. This baby is grueling.

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.

The gorgeous Jordan Ladd, a veteran of horrors like Cabin Fever and Hostel II, as well as Shanna from Death Proof, is stunning in the lead role of Madeline Matheson, an uber-green vegan mom who must reach within herself and confront that which revolts her the most when she discovers that her newborn baby, believed to have been dead in the womb, is born not only alive, but with an insatiable need for human blood.

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.

But speaking of gore and violence, there is no shortage of it here. Now I'm going to confess something. I have a bit of a problem with blood. Yes, you read that right. B-Sol of The Vault of Horror gets queasy at the sight of blood. Ripping flesh I can handle, buckets of guts are no problem. But once that crimson starts to flow, I get weak in the knees and lose the ability to make a fist. And my delicate sensibilities were put to the test here, for sure. This film is dripping with blood--and not the bright red, comic book, Hammer kind, either; but rather some of the most realistic-looking blood and blood-letting I've ever seen on screen.

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.

Interestingly, this is a film in which the male characters are more or less forgettable accessories. Vivian's husband is an ineffectual doormat, reduced to a submissive stub by decades of marriage to a sociopathically controlling wife. Madeline's own husband, Grace's father, is killed in the car accident that her unborn baby was initially presumed to have been killed in as well. Not only does Madeline show zero sorrow or sense of loss for the remainder of the picture, but the only character we see mourning in any way is his insane mother Vivian, who expresses her grief in the most unhealthy ways possible.

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.

We've all heard the stories of audiences being left in absolute shock by this film, and while I often view such reports as having more than a little PR spin to them, I can see how there could also be some truth to them in this case. Clearly, although many in our screening were horror fans, there were also those who also were not fully aware of what they were in for--as could be attested to by the occasional gasps of disbelief. This movie was made last year, but it took forever until any distributor would go near it. Thankfully, Anchor Bay finally stepped in, and kudos to them for having the nerve and the faith to do so.

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.

I will say that this movie has pushed my opinion of digital film into skeptically negative territory. It was projected digitally in the theater, which I assume also means it was shot digitally, and I have to admit that I much prefer good old-fashioned film stock. There's a richness missing from the image here, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a gigantic flatscreen TV instead of a movie screen. Maybe this was the fault of cinematographer Zoran Popovic, but I'm hesitant to place blame there, as I'm not as familiar with the technical aspect of digital filmmaking as I'd like to be.

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.

For those unafraid of a challenging viewing experience, I highly recommend catching Grace. If you're not lucky enough to live near the New York or Los Angeles areas, you will have to wait for DVD--but I assure you, it will be worth the wait. This is the kind of film that will affect some more than others--for example, having children of your own will probably make it more intense, and I can definitely imagine that having gone through the process of childbirth would make it that much more so. For example, watching Madeline cradle the just-born baby she believes to be dead is one of those film moments that will always stay with me. As I type this, I find myself becoming emotional again, in fact.

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.

But forgive my rambling. And go see Grace if you can.


KT Grant said...

Is it a gorefest or more psychological horror? The fear for every new mother is losing a child is the biggest horror of all.

For some reason I keep thinking of Little Shop of Horrors as Seymour must feed the plant more blood to keep it from being hungry.

Monster Scholar said...

From what you said I feel like Grace is everything I'd hoped it'd be and more. Cannot wait for the DVD.

B-Sol said...

It's psychological horror, but with a very realistically gory bent. The blood is quite copious, I'll warn you--but this isn't a film that relies on gross-outs to generate horror.

Funny you mention the Little Shop connection, because BJ-C did a post a while back on Day of the Woman expressing doubts to that effect. But I assure, this is light years away from Little Shop of Horrors.

Johnny said...

Really bummed that we couldn't make it out there but i'm glad you guys had a great time and loved the movie. I'm gonna try to get into the city before this theatrical run is up and finally see it!

KT Grant said...

I bet I know how it ends. And nope, have not read any spoilers.

Anonymous said...

Amazing review. Well done. I think I mentioned this before but I was sick and already had tickets purchased for the Dallas AFI film fest premier. So freakin' bummed that I missed it. Can't wait for the DVD!

B-Sol said...

Thanks, Cortez. Kate, shoot me an email, and I'll let you know if you got it right or not.

Unknown said...

Adam Green, Jordan Ladd and the director were at my screening. Pretty sweet. They had a Q and A after.

B-Sol said...

Lucky! New York got none of that coolness...

Ms Harker said...

Excellent review Sir.

It is more of a psychological horror than gore fest. although the blood does run free. The material is challenging,but I didn't feel it was overwhelming.

I felt it was cleverly done pushing the status quo, but not in a way that was for cheap thrills. There is thought behind this film, reflection of the relationships of women and birth and women with each other.



I've been following the horror blogshere buzz on this film for a while and I have heard both good and bad. However I have come to trust your opinion so I am now bound and determined to see GRACE as soon as I can.

And I don't feel you rambled at all, in fact your review put me in the mind of some of Roger Ebert's work.

And besides what I am about to share next is much more rambling.

On a personal note, I imagine it will be tough viewing for me. My missus and I were originally told we would most likely not be able to have children.

Then almost ten years ago now we found out that we were going to have a kid after all.

(Yes dear readers my seed is that mighty)

Things we smoothly enough until the big day, to keep it short my daughter became stuck and an emergency c-section was needed.

I was there with the missus for the procedure to comfort her as best I could.There was a partition up so I couldn't see the trained medical professionals going through my wife's innards like she was the guest of honor at a zombie buffet.

Finally they got my daughter free and sent her off to the neonatal intensive care ward.

Meanwhile a panic of sorts erupted in the operating room because the doctors' realized they couldn't find one of my wife's kidneys.

So they had to get a whole other missing kidney specialist doctor while I was bundled off to check on my daughter.

Once everyone was stabilized and the damn kidney was found (It was hiding) I was sent home alone to what felt like the emptiest apartment in the world.

About week later my wife and daughter were well enough to come home and we all got ready to settle into that new baby parenting routine.

At least until that first 4 AM feeding when part of my wife's incision split open spilling red fluid onto the kitchen floor.

Everything turned out Ok in the end (although I don't think my wife will ever let me forget that in a crisis I forgot the number for 911- I really did)

Now that's a ramble B-Sol!

B-Sol said...

As long as everyone's happy and healthy now, that's what matters. That's quite a harrowing tale, Al! And I remember that "empty apartment" feeling, too...

mits777 said...

No it was not a gorefest but more of a borefest. By far the most disappointing movie ive seen this year. Lower your expectations people, im warning you.

Pax Romano said...

I deliberately avoided your review of this movie (OK, I have not read any reviews of Grace), because this film sounded like something I wanted to watch with no prejudgments.

Interesting how we both had a similar reaction to Vivian giving her husband his breast...for a moment, I was thinking, "this is refreshing, older people on film acutally having sex", and then when I saw what was really happening, my blood ran cold.

As I still have the DVD, I am going to re watch it later this week, as I agree that the film deserves a repeated viewing.

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