“Grace” is a horror film which places women under a different light. It might be challenging to watch for mothers-to-be, or for young ladies who want to have kids of their own someday. As a horror film, what renders “Grace” effective is the spotlight on the concept of abjection.
According to Barbara Creed (2002) in her article entitled, “Horror and the monstrous-feminine: An imaginary abjection,” it is stated that “one of the key figures of abjection is the mother who becomes an abject at that moment when the child rejects her for the father who represents the symbolic order” (p. 68). However, in “Grace,” the male figures were hastily eliminated or were altogether useless. Michael, Madeline’s husband, tragically dies in a car accident. Henry, Vivian’s husband, did not display any agency as a character because he was overpowered by Vivian. Meanwhile, Dr. Sohn was killed by Madeline in an attempt to hide the truth about Grace, her “baby.” Because of these events, the child had no choice but to stay with the mother.
Abjection is defined as “the inability to assume with sufficient strength the imperative act of excluding abject things (and that act establishes the foundations of collective existence)” (p. 69). The most compelling example of abjection in “Grace” is Madeline’s act of keeping her baby despite the fact that it was already dead. She had to expel the baby from her body, but she chose not to and this is one way of experiencing abjection. Abjection can likewise be experienced in biological bodily functions. An interesting scene in the film wherein abjection took place was when Vivian started excreting breast milk. This is pretty weird because she seems like she is already menopausal. Furthermore, another instance of abjection in the film is the act of giving birth to a dead baby (who was miraculously willed back to life by Madeline). Here, we can see the mother in the horror film as the “monstrous feminine.”
Horror films explore the “monstrous feminine” in several ways. For example, in the “Autopsy of Jane Doe” and in “Deadgirl,” the female characters were stripped down of their agency yet, they were still feared and regarded as monsters because of the threat that they posed to the male characters. In “Grace,” Madeline (the mother) is the monstrous feminine because she “refuses to relinquish her hold on her child, hence, preventing the child from taking up its place in the symbolic” (p. 72). Similarly, this is where we begin to “encounter the rituals of defilement” (p. 72). During the first few mother-daughter moments of Madeline and Grace, Grace looked and acted like a normal baby. However, we see the monstrous consequences of Madeline’s decision to let Grace live in the succeeding parts of the film. Grace began to show signs of defilement after a short while. It started when flies began to go inside her room. After a while, she started to excrete blood. Her thirst for blood followed suit, in which she destroyed her mother’s breast in the process. There was a moment in the film wherein I began to wonder if Grace was an imaginary baby because I was very weirded out with what was happening in the film. Likewise, another interesting thing to note about the film was how Madeline’s character experienced defilement, even though she was the ultimate cause of the process of abjection. In the first few frames of the film, Madeline was a glowing and healthful mother-to-be. The process of defilement began when she chose to give birth to a supposedly dead baby, and this was also when her looks started to change. She began to look haggard, forlorn, and weak. Madeline’s dedication and love for Grace was admirable, but it’s hard to feel pity for her character’s woes because the moment she decided to keep the dead baby (or to will it back to life), she brought upon her own destruction as well. Hence, truly making her the “monstrous feminine.”
Furthermore, “Grace” exhibits similar features when it comes to cinematography to the horror movie, “Triangle.” Both movies start with scenes that come up with during the last few frames of the film, adding a kind of circularity in the story. In both films, the cycle of fear felt like it would never end. However, in “Grace,” it was taken to the next level because the baby is growing. Can Madeline’s body keep up with the needs of her monstrous baby? The audience will never know.
All in all, what renders “Grace” as an effective horror film is how it enables the audience to see gender in a different light, particularly the “monstrous feminine.” It also deals with the concept of abjection in relation to the maternal, which enables the audience to understand how and why women are treated as such in the horror genre.
Source: Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.