Raging Grace - FrightFest English Premiere
Director: Paris Zarcilla
Starring: Max Eigenmann, David Hayman, Jaeden Paige Boadilla, Leanne Best
Written by: Paris Zarcilla
Produced by: Chi Thai, Darlene Catly Malimas
Cinematography by: Joel Honeywell
Original Score by: Jon Clarke
An undocumented Filipina immigrant lands a job as a care-worker for a terminal old man, but a dark discovery threatens to destroy everything she's strived for and holds dear.
Horror is one of the few genres that has always successfully been able to tap into the zeitgeist. It doesn't matter what year, or decade, or century, horror has this magical ability to use its power to highlight real world issues and be a platform for social commentary. Paris Zarcilla's fascinatingly profound debut feature film takes that platform by storm.
Max Eigenmann plays Joy, a Filipino mother who is now living in the UK with her daughter Grace but without legal documentation. She works as cleaner for various households and is just trying her best to raise some money so she can procure a Visa, but it's gonna cost her £15,000. She's in a real rut. With no home of her own (she squats in her clients homes while they are on vacation) she's running out of time to raise enough money to become a legal citizen.
The first quarter of the film uses a combination of montages of Joy at work and short scenes of her explaining to Grace that their "situation" is temporary. The montages are actually humorous but for all the wrong reasons, as it sadly highlights the sheer ignorance of some of Joy's clients. One young white woman thinks that Kenya is in Asia. It shouldn't be funny but the way Joy reacts is playful like she absolutely hears this kind of stupidity every single day of her life. There's another short scene where some young dude is checking out her ass as she scrubs the rug on the floor. This time her reaction is of disgust but she just gets on with her work. She's an immigrant after all and she should be happy that she is able to work in the UK right?
That's basically the theme of the entire film and it gets highlighted to monumental proportions when she visits the house of the terminally ill Mr. Garrett and meets his niece Katherine, a well dressed, polite but snooty 40 something who assumes that Joy is the new housekeeper. That's the first red flag because she makes her simple assumption based solely on looks. Katherine initially comes across quite friendly but there is an instantaneous undercurrent of snobby arrogance about the way she speaks to Joy. Katherine hires Joy privately to be a live-in housekeeper but insists that she just cleans the house and that she herself will take care of Mr. Garrett.
But when Katherine leaves for a day on an errand, Grace tells Joy that she thinks Katherine is administering sleeping pills to Mr. Garrett and Joy takes matters into her own hands, which eventually leads to an extraordinary discovery.
'Raging Grace' has some pacing issues and it definitely takes a while to get going but Max Eigenmann just has such a great presence that it's difficult to take your eyes away from the screen. She shows a lot of charisma even when she's doing very little and weirdly it's her comedic facial expression that is very engaging early on. She really is a joy to watch. Part of her struggle is to keep Grace a secret from Katherine, which seems implausible and is never really explained, but it leads to a few tense close calls. The film doesn't really kick into gear until Mr. Garrett is miraculously awoken by Joy's homegrown medicinal remedies and then things get laid out onto the table that will set up the second half of the film.
David Hayman is fantastic as the terminally ill old man turned evil master. He has something deeply sinister behind his judicious eyes. A man of tradition and uniformity, as he becomes more aware of the situation surrounding Joy and Grace his true character begins to show itself and Hayman turns the creep factor up to 11. His out of date, colonial ideals show themselves in possessive ways and his longing for power and control over a more vulnerable person or persons in this case is genuinely disturbing.
Leanne Best is phenomenal as Katherine and absolutely believable in every way. She's the perfect example of a white person who doesn't really understand that she's being racist just because she's being mannerly. If you looked up white privilege online it would redirect you right to her Linked In profile. Yet she does somehow manage to redeem herself and atone for her prior ignorance.
'Raging Grace' is apparently the first in a trilogy of thematic films by Paris Zarcilla. Let's hope the next two continue to show characters like Joy who evoke potent resilience and unrelenting strength during horrific circumstances. Much of the horror of the film is based on the very real world problem of Joy's desperation to provide for her daughter and navigating her way around the hurdles that is in her way. Mr. Garrett becomes a menacing enough villain towards the end however after a nail biting set up, the finale is a bit deflating. Thankfully the last few scenes is emotionally rewarding.
- Gavin Logan
'Raging Grace' received its English Premiere at FrightFest '23 on August 27th