Grace

It’s a statement, but nobody knows what it’s saying
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Paul Solet
Starring: 
Jordan Ladd, Stephen Park, Gabrielle Rose, Smamntha Ferris
The Setup: 
Woman raises some kind of monster baby that thirts for blood.
Discussion: 

This horror film certainly has a lot on its mind--sex and vegetarianism vs meat-eating and women and lesbians and obsession over babies--but none of it ever comes together. Add to that its basic unpleasantness, about a woman who may or may not have given birth to a dead baby and is carrying it around, and it's just a big, nasty wash.

A reader wrote and recommended this, and I saw, via IMDb, that it seems to polarize viewer reaction. People either love it or hate it, but little in between. Then we watch the movie itself and there is a great deal of content playing on sex roles, gender, and relating them to meat-eating vs. vegetarianism. If the connection between those isn’t exactly clear to you, don’t worry, it isn’t really clear in the movie either.

So we open with our heroine Madeline, or Maddy, staring unfeeling and seemingly bored as her husband has sex with her. Afterward, she emotionlessly raises her knees up, to aid in fertilization. Next they’re having her husband, Michael’s, parents over. His uptight and intrusive mother, Vivian, who makes clear that she doesn’t like Maddy’s vegan tempeh food, and doesn’t like Maddy’s plan to deliver her baby through a midwife and forego the traditional hospital route. Vivian has a “World’s Greatest Mother” mug, and insists that she be seen as the expert on all things relating to childbirth. We soon learn that Maddy had previously lost two pregnancies. Soon she is making Michael a special liver and onions meal, featuring the grossest piece of meat ever, and making it known that she, as a vegan, finds it repulsive. By now we’ve noticed that every time the TV is on, it is showing footage of animals in feed lots or being slaughtered as part of our food system.

They go meet a midwife, Patty, who is all holistic and, we soon discover, lesbian. Soon Maddy goes to the hospital with chest pains. Intrusive mom Vivian sends her doctor over, but Maddy calls Patty, and soon Patty is revealed to be right about whatever the problem was. On the way home, they have an accident and Michael is killed! Maddy is rushed to the hospital, where we learn that her baby is dead! She carries the dead baby for three weeks, then delivers it and--it’s alive!?

SPOILERS > > >
Here’s where the problems start. We’ve been told that the baby is dead, but we’re constantly shown that it’s alive--we SEE the live, healthy looking baby. So we’re not really sure whether Maddy is just crazy and is carting around a dead baby, but we see, through her eyes, it as alive, or if it really is alive. But other people see it throughout the movie, and they don’t react as if it’s dead. So maybe it’s undead or something? Maybe. Now, I’m all for ambiguity, but this is a massive central issue, THE central issue, and if you NEVER really know for sure what is happening, it starts to alienate one from the movie. I made it all the way to the end of the movie never knowing for sure what the situation was with this child.

So Maddy keeps raising the baby, and arguing for the idea that maybe its dead is that it apparently smells awful and attracts flies like nobody’s business. Then we see Patty the midwife, and she has a picture of her and Maddy together, which causes her assistant [and also her girlfriend] to say “Whatever you had with her is over.” Okay--so supposedly they were together? And then we see Vivian is making her husband suck her breast so that the milk will keep flowing. We soon enough find out that she is conniving to take the baby from Maddy. I am fast-forwarding quit a bit by now.

Then Maddy discovers that the baby likes blood. She buys meat from the store and drains the blood from it, throwing the meat out, which seemed a terribly inefficent and expensive way to get blood. The baby is also biting at her nipples while nursing, causing her to have constant wounds there. Then the whole thing with Vivian comes to a head and people end up killed, and--are you ready for the shocking ending? Because I’m going to tell you what it is. So if you don’t want to know, skip the next paragraph.

There’s a little epilogue in which we see that Maddy and Patty have bleached their hair and run away together in an RV. In the final shot, Maddy says that the baby has started teething, and she pulls her shirt down and we see that the baby has eaten away large chunks of her breast. The end!
< < < SPOILERS END

So this is a movie that SEEMS to have a whole subtext going on, but dang if for the life of me if I can figure out what it is. So Maddy is vegan and there’s all this stuff about animal testing every time they turn on the TV. But then the baby is carnivorous and craves blood. Okay--? Any more to it than that? It’s just there, it doesn’t develop. Maddy doesn’t seem very upset that the baby is carnivorous, so it’s not like it’s a big challenge to her ideals. It just sits there and goes nowhere.

Then there’s the large amount of content about women and their obsession over babies. And again--it just goes nowhere. Maddy is quite keen to have a baby, so much so that she may be keeping a dead infant--we never really know--and Vivian is obviously crazed over motherhood and having a baby. Okay. Is that it? Anything more? Add to that all the lesbian stuff at the end, fine, but--what does it all amount to? The film is so loaded with this stuff and it’s so front and center that it’s clearly no accident, but it just never uses it to say anything. And, I’m afriad, when you have a lot of this stuff front and center--numerous women’s issues, lesbianism--but don’t make some sort of statement about it, it starts to come pff a bit like they are being used merely for coloring and flavor, and one begins to suspect that there may be an offensive air of judgement behind it.

I watched the DVD extra where the writer-director talked about the origins of the move and how he thought of it, hoping to gain some insight into what it was all about. I did not get any. But I did see that the writer-director is a man of maybe 30, and I’m sorry, whenever you have a man, especially a young kid like this, writing a movie that not only has a great deal of women’s psychology, but is in fact ABOUT women and their issues, I get suspicious. Because--WHY is this what he wants to write about? Of course, it would be easier to judge if one had any idea what he is trying to SAY with the film, what STATEMENT he’s trying to make with all this women and motherhood and animal rights and lesbian stuff. And since none of it ever really comes together, elements such as the final shot of the mutilated breast just seem a little distatsteful for the frisson the movie seems to be asking us to get from it. But no, it’s all there, it just never coheres into anything. I did a fair amount of digging around on message boards to see is maybe I was just missing the point, but it doesn’t seem that anyone else got anything either.

So how is it as a movie? I can’t really say it’s that great. All those women’s issues and certain women’s mania for babies is a fascinating topic ripe for [further] examination, but as noted this film doesn’t really seem to have much to say about them. I think writer-director Paul Solet is just young and doesn’t get that alluding to a topic isn’t the same as making a statement about it. Further, although it’s nice that the film has a leisurely pace, there’s a difference between a slow burn and nothing happening. And this film has a lot of dead air, where it’s just going on but nothing interesting is happening. And finally, as noted previously, it can really keep you alienated from a film when you can’t get a grasp on a central premise--what is the story with the baby? Is it alive or dead? We all appreciate ambiguity, but too much and one remains alienated from the film, and after a while one simply stops caring what the answer to the mystery may be.

Should you watch it: 

I don’t see any reason to.