Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grace the Blood-Loving Baby

Had a two hour break between work commitments last night, so caught this at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. It is a bloody good horror movie. What makes it so good is the fact that it doesn't act like a horror movie at all.

It doesn't feel the need to bow to genre conventions. It is a drama with horror film subject matter, but not until the last five minutes does it feel "familiar".

Jordan Ladd, who is extraordinary, plays Madeline, a mother-to-be who has experienced a recent miscarriage. Her New Age childbirth ways have upset her controlling, traditional mother-in-law (played by Gabrielle Rose), so there is tension between her and her husband (Stephen Park). Hubby supports her lifestyle choices, but he's still clinging to many of his mother's conventional attitudes to life, love, and food choices. These personal dynamics are smartly and economically set up by director Peter Solet, and they give the rest of the movie strong resonance.

After she suffers a deeply traumatic setback, Madeline appears to miscarry. Although the baby is dead, she refuses to have it removed. But when the baby is finally expelled from its maternal coffin, it's alive.

I'd be spoiling a lot of great surprises to say too much more.

Grace is not a revision of It's Alive or the French Baby Blood; it's very much its own little person.

Up until the macabre craziness is suddenly overwhelmed by equally crazy camerawork, I was totally loving every minute of this potential gem.

In recent years, there have been technological developments allowing for extremely shallow depth of field and selective focus. For example, in a shot of a person's face, it's possible to focus on the mouth only with everything around it becoming blurred. Or in a long shot of a room, the focus can be on a tiny lamp. These effects are achieved using hardware such as the Letus Extreme, the Lensbaby, or variations of what's called "tilt and shift" accessories.

If used sparingly, this technology can be very helpful. Unfortunately, in Grace, these devices are grossly overused, and they become distracting. In a couple of scenes, focus disappears altogether.

A novel approach to photography is good, but it shouldn't distract us from or obscure the drama.

A film this bizarre does not need gimmicks. Were the filmmakers so close to it that they didn't realize that? It's about a blood-sucking, tit-chewing baby for fuckssakes! Aren't distorted images a bit redundant?

Up until the trickery takes over, this is a totally involving, dramatically fascinating drama with one deliciously grotesque development after another.

Perhaps I'll will be the only viewer bothered by the excesses of gimmicky photography. Perhaps I'm just clinging like a dinosaur to a lost art form.

As noted above, Jordan Ladd is a real find, and reminded me very much of the sensual Deborah Unger. Additional kudos must also go to Gabrielle Rose (who gets to do some very bizarre things), and the real baby (or was it a perfect dummy?) who was roped into what must have been a trying role for everybody concerned.

Director/screenwriter Solet has done an admirable job with Grace, and I highly recommend it.

But next time he has material this strong, he should trust the drama to do its job and leave the gimmicks to the music video boys.

4 comments:

  1. Grace will hopefully find a cult following once it gets released on DVD.

    See this film as it has some very memorable moments!

    As you've highlighted it's not perfect but at least it felt fresh and different!


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  2. MAS -- I agree that Grace will develop a following. It's very unusual. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. I remember seeing a preview of this over the past few months-can't remember where for the life of me-but I do remember thinking it looked like a good time. Glad to hear my initial impression was right. I'll be picking this up on DVD when it comes out on the 15th.

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  4. I liked it. The camera trickery was needless but imho not overwhelming... of course I wasn't really keeping an eye out for it. There is a space of a few minutes where Ladd's character is suffering from anemia and there's various soft focus shots that I thought were just a tad annoying. A POV shot from a painting that had a fly smashed on it seemed...unique. That's all I really noticed. I doubt most people will even notice that much.

    I watched this back to back with Deadgirl, which is a real feel-good double feature.

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