Not a “Grace”ful Birth

Transgressive horror films are quite a norm in independent film cinema, if I were to come to that conclusion based on the films shown in Horror Film class. We have seen various types of transgression throughout the class, from the body dissection shown in The Autopsy of Jane Doe to the necrophilia shown in Deadgirl. In this realm, Paul Solet’s Grace (2009) is no exception.

First of all, let’s get my opinions out of the way. I felt that Grace is bad. Among the films shown in class, this is the only one that I felt was truly bad. I appreciate the black humor but the execution is particularly rickety. The pace of the film is unbearably slow and the pay-offs are not exactly worth the wait; the pay-offs mostly center on titular baby Grace’s “condition”, which has already been unspooled in the first half of the film.

Moreover, the slow pace did not match the film’s length. At a mere 85 minutes, I expected something as jam-packed as Triangle but alas, I was wrong. The film consistently went on the wrong turns. It was just unfortunate since the premise of Grace was promising; body horror and baby horror always serves up great scares.

The acting also left me wanting, not because I was impressed but because I was underwhelmed. Jordan Ladd couldn’t carry a good line reading, not being convincing as Grace’s mother, Madeline. She showed too much calm or indifference in situations where she should have been more scared. There was more promise with Gabrielle Rose as Vivian, Madeline’s mother-in-law, and Samantha Ferris, Madeline’s midwife and implied former lover. However, Rose and Ferris were given underwritten storylines so they were not able to shine with their limited dialogue.

That is not to say that Grace did not have good points. I appreciate the images that foreshadow Grace’s “undead” condition, like the flies that come into the light or even the little thermometer that showed her low temperature reading. I also like how the camera whirls throughout Madeline’s home during the film’s final chase; there is a real sense of the film trying to make the viewers feel the tension. I just wish that the film found a way to be more engaging or more urgent.

Now, for the analysis of this film, I want to focus on Vivian. Yes, a lot can be said about creepy baby Grace, who manifests as a sort of American tiyanak, or even about Madeline. However, if there is one character that left a mark on my mind, it is Vivian. Her character creeps me twice than both Grace and Madeline combined.

In the film, the mother is depicted as the abject, someone who “threatens life” and has to be “radically excluded” as she threatens the self (Creed, 69). It is most explicit in the opening scene, with Vivian clashing with Madeline and Michael, Madeline’s husband and Vivian’s son. Vivian wants the couple to go to the hospital for ultrasounds and the eventual childbirth; however, the couple are firm with entrusting the process with a midwife. It is seen here that Vivian and Michael are having a silent tug-of-war: Michael struggles to break free of her mother’s choices but Vivian still wants to impose her will on her son’s family life (Creed, 72). It is notable that Henry, Vivian’s husband, is mostly silent in the discussion; the film does not see the father as an “abject”.

The “abject” position of Vivian is further exacerbated by the death of Michael in a car accident; Michael’s death inspires Vivian to seek Grace for her own. It is here that Vivian starts to be entirely creepy. She asks Henry to suck her breasts sexually. As stated in the discussion, it is creepy because there is an element of taboo in it. Vivian and Henry are already elderly and sex is something associated as “foreign” to such senior citizens. Additionally, the film makes it a point that the breast-sucking is not merely a sexual act, but a way for Vivian to cope with Michael’s death and a way for Vivian to know her vitality as a mother.

This is even more intensified by Vivian’s machinations to get Grace, convincing Dr. Sohn to try to find a “condition” about Madeline so as to render the baby’s mother unstable. Furthermore, she even tests her vitality by pumping milk from her breasts to see if she can feasibly feed Grace. What happens here is that Vivian believes that she has lost her vitality thanks to Michael’s death; taking and caring for Grace serves to “authenticate her existence”. In trying to take Grace under her wing, she wants Grace to be more of an extension of herself, an “extension of her narcissism” and controlling will as with Michael. (Creed, 72)

In the end, Vivian’s incessant efforts to authenticate her existence (read: take Grace for Madeline) prove to be futile and even leads to her own demise. She does not realize that Madeline’s own attachment to Grace is strong. She does not realize that Madeline is also fighting for the authenticity of her existence, for her motherhood and vitality, as much as her.

On a small note, the film makes a whole use of many bodily fluids, such as blood and milk. Excrements are seen in the film, and in reality, as profane; they do not follow the proper order of appearances. The film’s excessive use of fluids are able to disgust audiences right away. However, these fluids also serve as reminders of “a fusion between mother and nature”, when such fluids were not considered to be shameful (Creed, 74). This adds another layer to Vivian, and also Madeline. The liquids they excrete (milk for Vivian,  blood for Madeline) show that they are one with nature and show that they are life-giving; it may be disgusting for viewers (especially non-parents) but it is just normal for mothers like them.

If there is something that I have to give Grace credit on, it is that they are successful in making the mother as the “abject”. I just wish that the film made me care just a bit more about the fates of the mothers and of Grace.

Sources:

Creed, Barbara (1986). “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.” Horror, the film reader. Ed. Jancovich, M. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

“Grace (2009).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1220213/&gt;

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