One of the very best things about my job is that I'm fortunate enough to attend a few excellent film festivals each year, and without fail I come away with (at least) one or two new horror films that I'm happy to recommend. There is a flip-side to this privilege, however, and that is whenever that "indie festival horror flick" becomes available to the general public, I'm accused (numerous times) of contributing to the "over-hype,"of helping to create unfair expectations, and setting thousands of horror geeks up for disappointment. And I'm sure I'll get a few more of those comments once Paul Solet's Grace becomes widely available on home video ... but I don't care. This is a damn good indie horror film, a well-crafted, impressively confident, and entirely engrossing little terror tale that works as both a "basic" horror movie and something a little more challenging.
I first saw Grace during its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and here are some of my thoughts after only one visit with Grace:
Two movies kept bouncing through my head as I enjoyed the debut feature from writer / director Paul Solet, and those two movies were Teeth and May. I happen to think that they're two of the most unique and provocative horror films of the last ten years, but what's most interesting about them is that they're really insightful about all sorts of "women's issues" -- yet both films were written and directed by men! There must be something about the female machine that fascinates genre scribes, and once in a while (when the planets align) we're treated to something as smart, as twisted, and as fascinating as Teeth and May. And, yes, Mr. Solet's Grace can now be included in that list.
Grace would make a great double feature with the recent French import Inside, because both movies focus on an issue that most men find horrifying all by itself: pregnancy. In Grace we're introduced to a lovely young woman who has suffered through a pair of miscarriages, but all seems to be going pretty well with her current pregnancy. Or at least things are going well until a terrible car accident leaves our heroine a widow ... and leaves a stillborn baby residing in her womb.
Despite the protestations from her doctor, her mother-in-law, and her new-agey midwife, poor Madeline Matheson insists on carrying the pregnancy to term. But when little Grace finally enters the world, well, let's just say she's not nearly dead. To say much more would spoil most of the surprises, but here's a question worth pondering: How would you handle a newborn who demands blood over breast milk?
On paper, much of what Grace is about sounds basically gross and entirely exploitative. But that's why the horror genre is so awesome. It actually delivers surprises. So while I'm sure there's a perfectly good B-movie to be mined from Solet's concept, the simple fact is that this writer / director has a lot more on his mind than just a few good jolts and a handful of gooey gore. Like the best films (horror or otherwise), Grace works on a variety of disparate levels, and it's tough to find a "weak link" in this debut feature. The pacing, the tone, the cast, the score, the confident approach to some potentially nefarious subject matter ... this is not a horror film that feels like it comes from a first-timer. But perhaps a "new guy" is the only one who'd tackle such a risky concept, and it's the genre fans who get to reap the rewards.
...and now that I've seen the film thrice (it's a short flick), I can further opine that, yep, this is a smart, creepy, and impressively ambiguous story that draws its characters in firm shades of grey, which allows each viewer to creates "heroes" and "villains" as they see fit. "Evil" little Grace is, all by herself, a pretty fascinating symbol. Does she represent the "dominating" force that all new parents must contend with ... forever? Is she something as basic as a zombie or vampire? Perhaps she's the devil herself, which might actually explain all the...
But now I'm maybe spoiling things. Suffice to say that Grace works well enough on a "literal" plane, in that it's a tight-fisted and disturbing little horror story -- but it really excels when it dances around all of its grey areas. The film might not be brilliant, but it's a lot smarter than it looks on first glance, and that's good enough for me.
And those who missed the film during its extended festival marathon or abbreviated theatrical run will be pleased to note that this $20 "blind buy," thanks to Anchor Bay Home Video, is packed to the rafters with supplemental goodies. (And boy does this low-budget horror flick look lovely on blu-ray!) After the feature presentation you can enjoy a low-key, informative, amusing audio commentary with director Paul Solet and producer Adam Green. The duo get along like old movie-geek buddies who know their stuff, and cinematographer Zoran Popovic joins the chat track about halfway through. Then there's a second commentary with Solet and lead actress Jordan Ladd, which is a bit less jocular than track one, but no less interesting.
Next up is a generous half-dozen featurettes, all of which are titles in self-explanatory fashion: Grace at Sundance / Grace: Conception / Grace: Delivered / Grace: Family / Her Mother's Eyes: The Look of Grace / Lullaby: Scoring Grace -- Well over an hour of well-produced, insightful, and witty "behind-the-scenes" material, all told. Plus there's the theatrical trailer as a final touch.
So those who say that "indie horror" is nothing but slasher flicks, stupid monsters, and generic retreads, I humbly offer Grace as an alternative to your mainstream DVD acquisitions. Like it, love it, or hate it, you'll probably have to admit that Mr. Solet is aiming for something a little bit higher than most young horror-slingers even shoot for. That alone is good reason to pay attention.