Eye For Film >> Movies >> Raging Grace (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Do you ever see those memes on the internet which say things to the effect of ”Would you spend a night in this house for £1,000?” When the house is genuinely scary, the answer really just comes down to how poor one is. Joy (Max Eigenmann) is desperate. Her visa has expired. She knows that people from Immigration Services are looking for her. She has saved up everything she can, but still she needs to find another £5,000, and quickly, in order to obtain identity papers for herself and her daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). When she is unexpectedly offered a lucrative new opportunity by a wealthy woman in a large house, she finds it impossible to turn down, in spite of the various factors making her uncomfortable.
“Don’t say Ma’am. Just Katherine,” says the woman (Leanne Best) in a clipped RP accent and tones which belie the friendliness she purports to offer. She stresses her name again when Joy stumbles and inadvertently calls her Karen, though she will later use the very words “Get me the manager.” It’s clear that she won’t be the sort of person who would be comfortable with Joy taking up the live-in position with a child in tow, and even if she were, that could lead to awkward conversations about why the child was not at school, so Grace has to be smuggled into Joy’s room inside a large suitcase. The risk of her getting caught when, inevitably, she sneaks out to play, ensures a lasting supply of tension, and there are a few farcical moments before writer/director Paris Zarcilla settles on a darker tone.
Upstairs in the house, an elderly man, Mr Garrett (David Hayman), lies sleeping. Joy offers to care for him but Katherine says she will do it herself; she’s very particular about it. What she doesn’t know, but what becomes apparent from a photograph we see amongst Joy’s things, is that Joy is not just a housekeeper – she’s a qualified nurse. Over time she comes to suspect that Mr Garrett is not naturally unresponsive but is being kept in a coma. She is torn, remembering an oath she once swore to report any such situation which she might come across, but to do so would mean arrest for her too. Is there another way to handle things? What if she were to help Mr Garrett wake up?
When one is living in precarious circumstances, one of the barriers to pursuing opportunities is the awareness that whilst good things might potentially happen, any change for the worse could be absolutely devastating. It takes all Joy’s courage to take action, spurred on by her child, who has a fierce sense of morality and sees the world in much simpler terms. Though what follows involves horrors both surprising and unsurprising, the new resolve which she finds, the willingness to assert herself, has a value of its own. The question then is, can she survive for long enough to make use of it?
Screening at Fantasia 2023 and with a place lined up at Frightfest, Raging Grace is a Gothic thriller with the potential to appeal to a wide audience. It’s also a fierce critique of the racism embedded in a culture which still treats it as normal for some perfectly capable people to be waited on by others, and to treat them as less than human in the process. Combining these two thing isn’t easy and there are times when the emphasis necessary to sell the latter threatens to unbalance the former, but subtlety has been tried before and proven to be insufficient to break through to viewers who themselves benefit – directly or indirectly – from this type of system. As Zarcilla brings in more dramatic Gothic motifs, the balance is restored and the emotional sweep of the film successfully coheres.
Presenting the film in chapters, each titled in an elegant font, makes it feel like a period drama, as does the way in which Zarcilla frames the Victorian architecture with its strong vertical lines and classical accoutrements. It invites viewers who don’t know better to imagine the dreamy world of those heritage films which shy away from politics to focus on the private lives of the well dressed, well spoken and, well, grotesquely privileged elite. Could this be a Cinderella story in which Joy, who can’t walk down the street without somebody assuming she’s their new cleaner, gains access to the delights of upper class white life? A simple gesture of the head, a choice of word, is enough to demolish that illusion. There is another prize to be had, however, and that lies in the bond between mother and daughter, long disrupted by Joy’s gruelling work schedule, further damaged by what they endure in the house, but worth more than anything.
A smart and satisfying thriller which only occasionally overplays its hand, Raging Grace uses one sort of horror to speak about another, extending an invitation to its audience to participate in finishing off the larger monster.Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2023
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