Here’s a new kind of chick flick: a sunny contemplation of motherhood (breast-feeding especially) presented in a setting of creepy, blood-gushing perversity. “Grace” isn’t really a horror movie, but it’s gruesome and unsettling. The story could easily have been turned into low-budget genre trash; but first-time feature director Paul Solet (an Eli Roth protégé) maintains iron control of the wild material (it’s his script). Clearly, this is a guy to keep an eye on.
The main characters are all nuts, in one way or another. Heavily pregnant Madeline Matheson (B-queen Jordan Ladd in top form) is a flaming vegan and all-around new-ager who disdains doctors and has entrusted her pregnancy to an upscale midwife named Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris). Patricia was once not only Madeline’s teacher but her lesbian lover, too, and she still pines for her former student. Madeline’s husband, Michael (Stephen Park, not around for long), is staunchly supportive of his wife, but he’s pining, too — for a steak, a burger, anything along that line. Michael’s mother, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), thinks Madeline is weird, and she’d know about this — she’s obsessed with the notion that women can still produce breast milk even after menopause. (The scene in which we see this middle-aged lady toplessly testing that theory with a breast pump is supremely outré.)
In short order there’s a car crash. Michael is killed and Madeline loses the baby — it’ll be born dead. But while the little critter definitely does seem deceased when it pops out in the midwife’s birthing pool, Madeline, aglow with maternal love, cuddles it back to life. All goes well until she realizes that her new daughter, called Grace, has no taste for milk — she’ll only drink blood. This section of the film is wonderfully weird, and I won’t go into it except to note that Madeline is soon paying a maiden visit to the meat aisle at the local supermarket to stock up on special baby-formula fixings. (Sating baby’s thirst in the traditional biological way has become a painful and draining experience.)
As I say, this sort of thing might normally have us rolling in the aisles. But Solet and his production designer, Martina Buckley, have devised a visual scheme for the picture — carefully graded wall colors and pine floors gleaming in floods of sunlight — that provides a stabilizing context for the grisly goings-on and keeps them from tipping over into snickerville.
As the increasingly isolated Madeline starts falling apart, oblivious to the rotting fruit on a sideboard and the crusty mess in the kitchen, we begin to notice the movie’s substantial debt to “Repulsion,” the great Roman Polanski film. For a while I thought “Grace” was heading in that crazy-girl direction — that all the strange things we were seeing were figments of Madeline’s disintegrating mind. But that’s not the case, it turns out; and eventually the picture is undone by this sort of ambiguity. The premise seems to suggest a baby-vampire movie, which it isn’t either, and of course there are “Rosemary’s Baby” overtones, too. We’re never sure exactly what the film is supposed to be. (Solet may be too smart to really schlock it up.) Whatever it is, though, the film’s a chiller. And the ending — a final line, spoken by Madeline — is sweet, queasy perfection.
Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s review of “District 9,” also new in theaters this week.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Grace.”
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