A chilling fable in the tradition of It's Alive and Rosemary's Baby, director Paul Solet's first theatrical release, Grace, also invites comparisons to Polanski's Repulsion and the horror films of David Cronenberg. The story of a mother who may or may not have lost her baby in an auto accident – and the terrors that follow – Grace asks its audience to question the sanity of its protagonist (played by Grindhouse's Jordan Ladd in what's certainly the most challenging role she's tackled) and its own perspective on reality. I sat down and chatted with Solet about his inspirations and obstacles in making this acclaimed new indie, and about what he'll do next. Hit the jump to read an exclusive interview.
Grace appears to have been inspired by some of the best horror of the last several decades, but it's not a slave to those influences. It does what good horror should do – frightening us while offering something new. Can you comment on the genesis of the film, on how it first came about?
Firstly, thank you. I am a fan first and foremost, so I want to make movies I want to see. So to hear that is good. The genesis of the film, on a personal level, came from a conversation with my mom, when I was nineteen years old, where she told me that I had a twin that didn't make it. So the subject matter compelled me on a very personal level. Creatively, it wasn't until a few years later, when I was having a conversation about the actual medical science behind it. If you're pregnant and you lose a child and, labor isn't induced, you can carry a baby to term. This is a decision that women make more frequently than is talked about around the dinner table. To me, even as a man, that is such a horror that it's a really beautiful jumping off point for a genre film. You take a subject matter like that, that's already compelling, fundamentally compelling, on an innate level, you take that and then you pull into the genre where you're limited by nothing but your own imagination and your responsibility to make a consistent universe… I mean, it's gold. I pay very close attention to when I'm disturbed and when I'm not disturbed. I'm looking to get shaken up. As a horror fan, I'm looking to get shaken up. It's very difficult to get to me anymore. Most horror movies put me to sleep, or they infuriate me by failing to tap into the potential. This is some brutal stuff we're dealing with; really, really brutal stuff. I'm just excited to find something like that. I get very excited.
Can you comment on how you were informed by the horrors of David Cronenberg, and other great ‘70s films?
Oh yeah, I grew up on David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski movies. Those guys were my heroes. Those are my guys, those guys. At the same time, I definitely consider myself a real student of this stuff. I love these movies. I live and breathe this stuff. I do it all day, and I go to sleep thinking about it, and I dream about it, and I wake up and I do it again the next day. I live for this stuff. Not just the movies of the ‘70s – there are guys working today that I find incredibly inspiring. Guys like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. These guys are doing sound design like it's never been done before. Really amazing new ground is being broken. So I think if you're taking this stuff in, it's in your blood. It's just sort of the vocabulary of the people I hang out with. This is what we talk about. This is what we love, it's what we do. So it's nice to feel like we can actually give back and contribute to this kind of stuff, and hopefully put something out into the world that will maybe similarly inspire somebody else.
You mentioned Polanski. One of the things Grace has in common with one of his greatest works, Repulsion, is its questioning of the heroine's sanity. That's a tough line to walk for a filmmaker. Can you talk about that, and what a challenge that was, determining how far to go in informing the audience?
Well, that to me isn't the most intriguing element of the story. What's more intriguing to me is the idea of the bond between mother and child, that's the basic core building block of Grace. And even beneath that is this idea of needing something you cannot have. Those are really the jumping-off points, those are the building blocks of the thing. I love Repulsion. I absolutely love Repulsion, I think it's a fantastic movie. I love the history behind the movie, the fact that he made that movie for people that thought they were gonna be getting some sort of soft-core porn horror, b-schlock. He was like, "Yeah, I got it." They were like, "You're very overbudget." He's like, "I got it." And then he delivers this masterpiece that's so good that nobody can mess with it. That's a real inspiration. I'm not someone that plays around with the budget in the same way. I like to deliver a film on time and on budget. That's part of the challenge; it's part of the fun. But to me Repulsion is more of an influence by what it's exploring with forcing a hard perspective. It has a very sort of pure allegiance to its protagonist's perspective. And it's doing really interesting things with using an enclosed space, and altering the enclosed space to represent what's going on with the protagonist's point of view. So it's creating POV without literal POV, sort of. It's doing it masterfully. There's a beautiful sequence shots. He's a younger filmmaker and he's showing off what he can do in a way that he doesn't later on, in a lot of ways. I love that stuff. I think it's a fabulous film.
The cues that were taken from Repulsion really are the idea of what happens to an environment as a woman deteriorates; as her perspective, as her point of view, as her world, sort of crumbles around her and sort of warps and becomes corrupted and tainted. What are you going to do, how are you going to do that? What are you going to do technically to explore that? There are a whole number of different things. There's a lot of interdepartmental sort of stuff going on that doesn't always happen in films, which is very important to me – to have a sort of family operation going on. There's no competition. Department heads are like, "What do you need? What can I do to make this work?" Everyone is making the same movie. So you have the production designer Martina Buckley selecting this masterful pearlescent paint, that she sprayed the wall with. So the director of photography, Zoran Popovic, who's really a genius, this guy… These two working together – this is just one of many devices, but this is a good example – using this paint through his lighting, a room can go from this lovely, potent, fertile, feeling place, feeling like a womb, to a crypt. Those are the sorts of cues that you're taking from Polanski, and from that sort of exploration of exploiting space and moving into negative space, and dwarfing characters within it.
Can you talk a little bit about Jordan Ladd's casting in the lead role? It's quite a departure from some of her past work. Can you talk about how she came to be cast?
Yeah. I've known Jordan's work for a long time. I discovered her in Cabin Fever. Eli [Roth]'s a very old friend of mine, and I remember hearing about working with her; and I heard such great things about her. And I love her. I loved her in Cabin Fever. It's impossible not to have a crush on Jordan Ladd. She has this complete empathetic quality about her. It's impossible not to fall for her, and that's exactly what we needed. This is a character that's making these very difficult decisions, and potentially straining the patience and tolerance of an audience. So the last thing we want is to have her dismissed as a kook, for any sort of unorthodox choices she's about to make. So if you bring someone like Jordan into this role… Jordan isn't just your average sort of blue-eyed blonde girl-next-door. She's a beautiful blue-eyed blond with depth and personality, and you can sort of swim in those eyes. It's very hard to fall out of her perspective. Grace is her show. Grace is Madeline's story. Every stylistic decision is informed by Madeline's perspective, as it's affected by the condition of the baby. So you need someone with some real depth and some real character who's okay with just playing it cool and allowing elements to happen around her and respond to them.
What's next for you? Can you say what you're developing right now?
Yeah, I've got a number of different projects that are all sort of right on the edge. Whichever one the films gods want. There's a script that's gotten a lot of buzz going on. A script called BSH, which is something I'm excited about. There are a couple other projects that are just-drop-everything-in-your-world-and-forge-ahead-with-these things. So whichever one goes, I'm all over it. I mean it's a luxury situation. I wouldn't even call it a problem. It's a really great situation, at the end, to be able to be this excited about this many things.