The Movie Waffler New to VOD - RAGING GRACE | The Movie Waffler


A home helper is caught up in a battle of wits between a dying man and his niece.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paris Zarcilla

Starring: Max Eigenmann, Leanne Best, David Heyman, Jaeden Paige Boadilla

In the early 1960s British cinema began to acknowledge the nation's class divide with a series of "kitchen sink" dramas that exposed the inequality of one of the world's most prosperous countries. Roughly a decade later British horror filmmakers took up the baton. British horror had long been focussed on fear of "the other," represented by vampires, werewolves, mummies etc, all of which were essentially foreign in nature. In the early '70s Britain's horror filmmakers realised that the country's upper classes were as "other" to the average Brit as any fang-bearing foreigner, and so we began to get horror movies in which the villains were classic British toffs, living in regal mansions rather than Transylvanian castles. The villains of such films often held onto conservative values as opposed to the liberal protagonists, who more often than not were mini-skirted young women. Films like House of Whipcord, Virgin Witch and Satan's Slaves saw very modern women (well, for the time at least) getting themselves in trouble in the dusty old homes of House of Lords backbenchers.

With his feature debut Raging Grace, British writer-director Paris Zarcilla taps into his Filipino roots for a modern update on this classic format, adding issues of race and immigration to the still hot button topic of class.

Max Eigenmann, who drew worldwide attention with her affecting turn in the gruelling domestic abuse drama Verdict, plays Joy, a young Filipina living and working illegally in London while raising her young British-born daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). During the day Joy cleans homes and at night she and Joy use their keys to sleep in whichever homes she knows are currently unoccupied by her employers. Her goal is to raise the £15,000 demanded by a local criminal who claims he can grant her UK citizenship through dodgy means, but she's five grand short and he's running out of patience.

As a favour to her local pastor, Joy agrees to call around to the home of an elderly parishioner, Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), to check if he's okay. There she finds him in something of a comatose state. When Garrett's niece, Katherine (Leanne Best), arrives unexpectedly, Joy pretends to be the new home help. Katherine offers her a proposal, that she work for £1,000 per week, cash in hand rather than through an agency, live in a room in the house, and keep her mouth quiet about anything she sees within the walls of the house. Seeing a possible end to her problems, Joy readily accepts. She doesn't inform Katherine about Grace, whom she sneaks into the home inside a suitcase.

If this setup sounds vaguely familiar, you might have seen the recent South African horror movie Good Madam, which shared a similar entry point for its own examination of inequality. But while that movie struggled to do anything interesting with its premise, the foundation of Raging Grace sets the scene for a classic twisty thriller, one that keeps you guessing right up to its Gothic inspired climax. It may touch on some very modern concerns, but it's a very classically British horror movie, particularly in delivering the sort of eccentric villains favoured by the likes of James Whale, Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren. Best's Katherine is the sort of villain you could imagine Sheila Keith playing if this had been made in 1973, and the Garrett home is one of those classic British mansions that have seen better days.

Such familiarities are contrasted by Zarcilla bucking certain conventions. Most of the film's action takes place in daylight. The threat of death is largely replaced by something more urgent, that of Joy's potential eviction and ultimate financial ruin. It's never quite established who the real villain is, and even by the end it's still not entirely black and white.

Perhaps what's most striking about Zarcilla's film is how the director repurposes bedroom farce conventions to create tension and suspense. Some of the film's most effective sequences have characters hiding under beds while potential aggressors storm in and out of rooms. It's as heavily influenced by Fawlty Towers as The Old Dark House, and while there are some blackly comic moments (mostly courtesy of Best channelling British sitcom star Penelope Keith), these sequences work to generate scares rather than scoffs. While the movie is calm and calculated in its storytelling for much of the running time, Zarcilla isn't afraid to give us an old-fashioned bonkers climax, riffing on The Fall of the House of Usher and William Lustig's Maniac.

Ultimately the film comes down to its put-upon heroine facing a moral dilemma of whether to keep quiet and take the money or intervene in whatever she thinks is really at play here. The idea that someone on the lowest rung of the ladder has to take such self-harming action due to the squabbling of the upper classes will resonate at a time when the average Joe (or Joy) is being told to tighten their belt while the richest people in the world seem to be amassing greater fortunes than ever before.

Raging Grace is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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