By Eric D. Snider (reprint from Sundance Film Festival 2009)

Among the items on the prop list for Grace are: one (1) baby bottle filled with blood and one (1) dead baby. Now that you know that, a review might be superfluous -- you already know whether or not you want to see this movie.

If you are the sort of person who might enjoy an effed-up gore-fest about a woman who delivers an undead baby, you can rest assured that Grace lives up to its potential. It's at least as effed-up as you'd expect, and first-time writer/director Paul Solet (expanding on his 2006 short) proves himself adept both as a visual storyteller and as a guy who can make you crap your pants.

Jordan Ladd stars as Madeline Matheson, a young woman who has finally, after years of trying, conceived a child with her dull husband, Michael (Stephen Park). Madeline's intrusive mother-in-law, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), knows exactly which doctors Madeline should go to, which birthing practices she should follow, and even what food she should be eating (Vivian disapproves of Madeline's vegan lifestyle). But Madeline favors the New Age-y philosophies of her old friend Patricia (Samantha Ferris), a midwife with a medical degree who does holistic childbirth -- plopping out babies in pools of water while a CD of pan-flute music plays, that sort of thing.

After a slow several minutes of exposition and mood-setting, Solet kicks things into action with a series of crises that put Madeline's pregnancy at risk. An emergency-room stand-off between Patricia and the old family doctor that Vivian selected (Malcolm Stewart) is tense and unsettling, but that's only the beginning of Madeline's troubles. Eventually she gives birth to a stillborn baby girl -- except that the infant only stays dead for a few moments before reawakening. And I believe you know the tendencies of humans in horror movies who are brought back from the dead.

As Madeline descends into madness and obsession in caring for her hungry new baby, Ladd's performance emerges as one of raw fearlessness. She's emotionally (and sometimes physically) naked, yet still grounded in reality -- because after all, it's only in the details that Madeline's devotion to baby Grace is any different from any other mother's. It's not the kind of performance that gets mainstream attention, but Ladd is easily as good as most of the actresses who earn praise for more traditional "baby in jeopardy" melodramas. Meanwhile, Gabrielle Rose is eerily perfect as the dour, imperious mother-in-law.

Solet, having mastered the art of intense silence and tight close-ups, knows how to be subtle when subtlety is called for. He also knows how (and when) to let the blood flow -- and my heavens, does the blood ever flow in Grace. People bleed from terrible places, and for terrible reasons, and Solet does not shy away from it. The childbirth scene alone is horrific, the unnerving music and editing adding to the ghastliness of what's on the screen. I would be suspicious of any person who watches the entire film without cringing.

Apart from an unnecessary subplot involving Madeline and Patricia's backstory, Solet's screenplay is lean and efficient, focused entirely on this one line of thought: How far would a woman go to have a baby? Fans of population control will be glad to know that Grace is one of the most effective anti-procreation stories ever told.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Cinematical