In a rush to catch up on the current horror buzz, I almost completely forgot to write about a recent release on the indie festival circuit called Grace. My always-on-the-lookout friend Kristen mentioned the film to me when it played SXSW, and my composer friend Chris also brought it to my attention while I visited LA. He gave the film rave reviews, and the trailer seems to bear out that positive word of mouth.
I’m particularly jazzed to see Jordan Ladd in the starring role. She was terrific in Cabin Fever and used to lesser effect in Hostel: Part II, Death Proof, and Inland Empire. To my knowledge, Grace is her first lead role, and what a terrific part!
Of course, the content sounds totally screwed up, what with the demonic baby who appears to bite her mother’s breasts. The poster alludes to this horrific concept as well:
Of course, there’s nothing new about the theme of the monstrous baby. In her book The Monstrous Feminine, Barbara Creed devotes a chapter of her study on horror, gender, and psychoanalysis to the ways in which the womb has been portrayed as an incubator for terrifying creatures. Creed mentions films such as Demon Seed and The Brood, among others, as examples of films that carry on a much longer tradition of stories in which motherly love goes too far. Grace clearly belongs in this discussion.
Though I’ve yet to see the film, Grace also seems closely aligned with the story of “Otesánek” (Little Otik), which I would describe as a fairytale version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This Czech fairytale by Karel Jaromír Erben was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. The film follows a husband and wife unable to have children. Desperate for a baby, they adopt a tree stump with human-like features, treating it like a child. While initially inanimate, the stump gradually comes to life and literally begins to consume what surrounds him. The trailer hints at this motif of consumption:
Like Grace, Little Otik is a baby willed to life by characters who just won’t let go of their parental aspirations. In both cases, the baby produced mirrors the parents’ hunger for an object of affection with its on voracious appetite for human flesh. But while Otesánek presents this willing to life as a collaborative effort of mother and father (though certainly, the mother is presented as most invested in Otik’s survival regardless of the cost), Grace takes a less nuanced approach to gender by removing the father from the picture and making the mother the sole instigator. This parallels the films discussed by Creed, which so often present the fatherless birth as a mutant one.
Needless to say, the idea of a mother’s desire for children resulting in a demonic baby is problematic from a feminist perspective; still, I appreciate the problematizing of parenthood in an age when too many from the (dare I repeat this incredibly problematic term) “Millenial Generation” get ruined by coddling. It’s just too bad that in Grace, it’s the mother that solely raises the monstrous progeny.