My initial impression of Grace is that it is a movie full of crazy women. The female characters are depicted to be freaky in their own ways. Grace is a freak. Aside from being vegan [I’ll explain later how it’s weird, aside from the obvious reasons], Madeline (the mother) puts up with Grace’s freakiness . Vivian is your stereotypical mother-in-law who gives you hell for marrying her child. Patricia, who seemed to be the most “normal” one, turned for the worse towards the end. It’s crazy but I found it entertaining nonetheless.
As such, this movie is a perfect case in which the concept of the “monstrous-feminine” can be discussed in the context of abjection, using the Madeline and Vivien maternal characters in particular. The maternal figure, according to Barbara Creed deriving from Julia Kristeva’s work, is considered abject in a child’s development requiring the child to break away from its mother. On one level, it’s about the child establishing its own identity beyond that which makes the mother maternal. On another level, it’s about breaking away from the period with the “fusion between mother and nature” when the child learns about its body, disconnected from the symbolic representation of the body [i.e., the time when public or unhidden secretion of bodily fluids (drooling, peeing, pooping) is not accompanied by shame, disgust, or guilt].
Taking this in mind, what makes Vivien the scary mother/mother-in-law character is precisely because of her abject-maternal character. The unpleasant mother-in-law character is rooted in her persistent assertion of her maternal identity, something imposed on her son and her son’s wife. Perhaps what makes a mother-in-law torment her child’s spouse is the feeling of loss of maternal identity from the spouse “stealing” her child. In the film, the villainous depiction of the mother-in-law character through Vivien can be seen as rooted in her desire to establish or re-establish her maternal identity, a process of abjection.
The Madeline maternal character, instead of being the abject, is the character tasked to reject the abject. In her veganism, for instance, she is tasked to reject the abject animal abuse, blood, flesh, and slaughter. In her miscarriage, she is tasked to reject the supposedly dead baby. The intriguing points to watch out for with the Madeline character are the consequences of her failure to reject the abject. These are arguably the driving force of this horror film.
I find Grace to be a good reference for the discussion not just of abjection, but also of the monstrous-feminine concept. Its use of bodily fluids is not necessarily the most extensive I’ve seen in a horror movie; but the theme of the film just makes the bodily fluid trope more intense. Perhaps it has something to do with the idea of “fusion between mother and nature”. I interpret it as taking the idea to the extreme. It is not just a monstrous-feminine concept, but more particularly, it is monstrous-maternal – that is different from the Vivien example. It is the disgusting aspect of the physiological, taken to the extreme because of the pure weirdness of the baby.
To explain it more concretely, take babies as example – the point in life when you are heavily dependent on the maternal figure. During that time in our lives, we were allowed to just drool, pee, poop, burp, fart, and cry at any time we feel like doing so. The maternal figure just takes care of it – whatever form of excrement it was – as if it were her own. To other people (aside from the baby and the mother), these things are abject. In the context of Grace, the abject in the mother-baby relationship is especially prominent, not so much because of the monstrous character of the baby as it is the mother taking part in it to the point of her own abjection (as an individual).
Evaluating it as a movie, I would have to say that it is quite scary. It is characteristically weird as well, but it is a weirdness that any fan of horror could easily appreciate. Also, since I spent a lot of words talking about bodily fluids, I feel like I need to clarify that it is not as full of gore as I made it out to be. It is just that it is a symbolic trope that is relevant to the movie’s theme.
Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)