Warning: This entry contains spoilers.
Michael (Stephen Park) and Madeline (Jordan Ladd) are an excited young couple who are expecting their first child. However, due to an unfortunate car accident, Michael and the unborn child both pass away. Stricken with grief and still desperate for a baby, Madeline insists that she still gives birth to the child naturally. When Madeline’s due date comes, she undergoes a water birth and the child comes out as a stillborn. However, after some time, the baby seemingly comes back to life, surprising everyone. Madeline decides to aptly name her child, Grace – a miracle-born child. She soon discovers, though, that Grace is vastly different than other babies, or any human being for that matter.
Barbara Creed talks about how society has this idea of “the monstrous-feminine,” or what makes the woman terrifying, and how this relates with human’s physical states.1 Horror films seem to always portray women as the scary beings. Women are put on a pedestal and seen as the Other. This “Otherness,” which cannot be recognized as it is, must either be annihilated or assimilated2 by humans. In Paul Solet’s 2009 film, Grace, viewers are introduced to Madeline, a newly-single mother to Grace, her daughter. In the movie, it is Grace who seems to be the Other. She is different from human beings – flies swarm around her, she emits unpleasant smells even when visibly cleansed, the water in her tub changed from clear to black, and she enjoys drinking blood. Although Grace looks to be human, she is not really living. It is as if she is actually decomposing. However, instead of Madeline shying away from her child, she embraces this difference in Grace.
Julia Kristeva’s term of ‘abjection’ centers around that which doesn’t “respect borders, positions, rules,” and that which “disturbs identity, system, order.”3 The women in Solet’s movie are a perfect example of this abjection. Aside from Grace who differs wholly, as seen in her very entity and being, other examples also include Madeline (the mother) and Vivian (the grandmother played by Gabrielle Rose). Madeline loses her child, but through the use of her body (i.e. breastfeeding), she is able to will her supposedly-dead child back to life. She has no regard for the norms in society, and chooses to continue to feed Grace blood. She also doesn’t think twice about committing murder to stop anyone from finding out the truth about her baby. For Vivian, she also loses her child (Michael). Through her loss, it is as if something regresses within her. She wants to be a mother once more, and due to grief, she starts deviating from society’s borders by fetishizing breastfeeding, and scheming against her daughter-in-law to try and claim Grace for herself.
Madeline and Grace, both individually and in a mother-child relationship, can be related with the form of abjection experienced through biological bodily functions, specifically food and what they ingest, and bodily wastes or what they expel.4 At the start of the movie, Madeline was a vegan who was disgusted and sickened by all types of meat, but after caring for Grace, she was the one who went to the grocery and actively sought out to buys tons of meat so as to get the blood to feed her baby. When it comes to bodily wastes, it is fact that humans excrete, sweat, bleed, vomit, and many more. These things are known to be normal bodily functions, yet they are also seen as taboo. However, in the film, these things are shown through Grace. She exhibits abjection because these bodily wastes spills out from her visibly and explicitly, and although Madeline tries to keep these things a secret, they still somehow spill over and threaten their safety.
As for Vivian, her character can be related with the form of abjection seen in the mother-child relation marked by the conflict of the child struggling to break free, but the mother being reluctant to release her reigns.5 When Michael was still alive, Vivian was already very controlling, dictating what Michael and Madeline should do to prepare for their child’s arrival, which hospital they should go to, and who they should consult with. She invaded his privacy by making arrangements for his family without his consent. Even though Michael was already an adult, Vivian was still acting this way, which could imply that, all throughout Michael’s life, Vivian had been very much in control of him. When Michael dies, Vivian loses the control that she had and now, she is the one who starts struggling. She copes with this hardship by projecting her need to control onto her husband, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughter. She starts initiating sex with her husband, wanting him to “breastfeed” from her. Vivian also starts plotting together with a doctor, telling him that he should declare Madeline as unfit to watch over a child, so that Grace could go under Vivian’s care. Her absurd actions only point to her strong desire and yearning for another child to replace the one that she lost.
Personally, I found the movie to be quite slow-paced and not that scary, especially when compared to the other films we’ve seen in class. The fact that the “monster” was a baby greatly lessened the terrifying aspect that a monster in a horror film should have. I wasn’t sure who to root for either. Because of the appearance the monster took form in, and how Grace was basically harmless (other than reminding me of a baby vampire who wanted to drink blood), I didn’t necessarily want her to die. I also found myself trying to justify both Madeline’s and Vivian’s actions believing that they were acting the way they were simply out of grief and intense love for their children. Because of this, this leads me to believe that the central theme in Grace was about motherly love. Although this seems like a sweet concept, the way that the bond between the mother and child was executed can be seen as disturbing by many. It reached a point where both mothers were willing to compromise on their own beliefs and even resort to murder. Grace shows just how deep a mother’s love truly runs and that this familial love will always prevail, even if the actions undertaken can be perceived as generally unreasonable and unthinkable.
1 Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 67-68.
2 Robin Wood. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 27.
3 Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 68.
4 Ibid, 69-70.
5 Ibid, 72.