It’s that season again – the time when fans of horror, suspense and speculative cinema are scrambling to find something fresh to watch. Let me recommend a low-budget satiric shocker that generated quite a buzz at this year’s Sundance, SXSW, AFI Dallas, and Toronto After Dark festivals before hitting DVD a couple weeks ago. ”Grace” is the debut feature of writer-director Paul Solet. The movie had a first incarnation as a 2006 short that garnered enough attention on the festival circuit – including from filmmaker-actor Eli Roth — for Solet to find backers for a 90 minute version.
“Grace” works its perverse, bloody hypnotism with a methodical pace and carefully measured shock effects. The movie concerns an idealistic, pregnant vegan (Jordan Ladd a.k.a Cheryl’s daughter) determined to use natural childbirth methods under the direction of her professional midwife mentor (Samantha Ferris) and against the wishes of her scornful, controlling mother in law (a wicked good Gabrielle Rose). An accident happens and the baby dies in the womb – or so everyone initially thinks. In fact, the child emerges apparently alive after labor is induced. Phrases like “medical miracle” are tossed around, except mom quickly discovers that sweet little Grace isn’t like other newborns. She rarely cries. She tends to draw flies around her crib. And she displays a powerful craving for “special food” at feeding time.
“Grace” has three or four good “gotcha!” moments, but it’s not really a jump-out-at-you kind of horror flick. The movie draws its hushed power from director Solet’s gruesome determination to ratchet up each new complication to a greater extreme, and from the total commitment of three very talented female actors to his unlikely material. Patient viewers are rewarded with a white-knuckle climax and a surprising but effective epilogue. If you enjoy oh-so-sacred social topics getting a twisted reexamination, then this flick offers a feast – the outer limits of motherhood are thoroughly explored from the angle of three different but obsessed characters. “Grace” also manages to be (grotesquely) funny while maintaining its primal fearfulness: Director Solet lampoons helicopter parenting, the dietary lifestyles of the smug and college-degreed, and anyone who sentimentalizes the gory business of childbirth and the global food chain.