Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Best Worst Movie - Grace [IFFBoston - Day 4]

Saturday morning was beautiful in Boston. The sun was out and by the time I dragged myself out of bed it was already in the 70s. Perfect time to jump into a dark theater, right? Well, I have to apologize for skipping out on Crude, the new documentary by one of the directors behind the Paradise Lost films (and that Metallica doc) – a couple of my top documentaries of all time. Instead I took in the Red Sox/Yankees game on TV and fortified myself for a Saturday night double feature at the Brattle.

Best Worst Movie (Dir. Michael Stephenson)
In 1990 a movie called Troll 2 was released. It didn’t actually feature any trolls and had nothing to do with the 1986 movie Troll. It starred child actor Michael Stephenson and George Hardy, who played Michael’s father. 18 years later Michael Stephenson has crafted a genuinely hilarious and loving ode to the people behind the making of what many consider to be the worst movie of all time – hence the title of his documentary: Best Worst Movie. Luckily for Stephenson, George Hardy (see pic) is more than willing to go the distance with Stephenson – in 1990 and today, Hardy is a dentist in a small southern town who wants nothing more than to be an entertainer. The man is a bundle of energy (which may have something to do with the homemade power shakes he whips up every morning) and is the first person we meet as the story of Troll 2 unfolds and we eventually spend some time with everyone from the actors who played the troll—er, goblins, to the delusional writer and director.

Part of the reason Troll 2 is such a mess is due to the fact that you had a lot of first time or untrained actors in a film written and directed by ESL Italians looking to make an allegory about American families centered on killer vegetarian goblins. It was a project that was set up to fail from the beginning. But something happened over the past few years. Worn VHS tapes started getting passed around and soon people were quoting the movie at parties and screenings (even at the Brattle!) around the world are selling out. The movie does a fantastic job at examining what makes one bad movie infinitely more watchable and enjoyable than another and what causes a seemingly normal person to go and get a Troll 2 tattoo on his arm. In fact, it’s easily the best look at fame in the age of YouTube I’ve seen.

Best Worst Movie is the cherry on the fest for me – one of those films that I probably wouldn’t have tracked down if not for IFFBoston. It’s the funniest movie I’ve seen and filled with absolute jaw-dropping moments that capture real life equivalents of the UK The Office and Christopher Guest mockumentaries at their best/worst. Not many films can capture humor and heartbreak at the same time and Best Worst Movie is chock full of painfully funny scenes like Hardy trying to set a up a Troll 2 screening for his hometown and realizing that it isn’t going to get quite the reception that he got in NYC. So far, this is my pick for best of the fest. It’s a tough act to follow, but if there’s a film up to the task it’s Grace.

Grace (Dir. Paul Solet)

Grace doesn’t take long to get under your skin. Through the music, or lack thereof, the muted colors, the creeping camera and unsettling subject matter, it’s a hard film to shake. There’s an eeriness from the get go as we watch what will probably go down as the least erotic love scene to feature Jordan Ladd ever captured on film. Ladd plays Madeline and we can tell from her distant expression that the sex is purely for reproductive purposes – well, it isn’t for pleasure anyway. And it worked because soon afterward we see they’re picking out a midwife – and a very mysterious one at that.

I can’t imagine how overwrought I would be during the majority of time between finding out your pregnant until the thing can walk, talk and pour a bowl of cereal. Until then there’s a DMZ full of landmines of possible problems and life altering scenarios that could arise. Grace manages to capture a few of these worst-case scenarios and expertly feed of the built-in human emotions that go along with this subject matter. [Beware. A few spoilers to follow.] It isn’t long before Madeline’s husband is dead and she’s given the news that the child died in the womb. Through the help of the mysterious midwife, Madeline sees her pregnancy through and gives birth to the seemingly dead baby – until a moment later when the child, Grace, lets out a cry. Of course, this isn’t really so much a miracle as it is a curse. Grace seems to have an unhealthy appetite for blood and as it turns out may in fact still be dead since she’s smellier than your average baby and is attracting a lot of flies. It’s disturbing to watch in large part because if you ask yourself what the alternative is to what Madeline does in the film and there aren’t many appealing options. All of this leads to a downward spiral for Madeline that’s reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Madeline shuts herself off from the outside world (except for some dark “vegan horror” television shows) and allows Grace to feed off her to the point of anemia and it all culminates in a dizzying confrontation between Madeline and her mother-in-law.

In good form, Grace doesn’t go about trying to answer all your questions – a tactic that I enjoyed quite a bit in the Deagol Brother’s Make-Out With Violence as well. Is Grace a zombie baby? A vampire baby? Was the mysterious midwife more like Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby than we were lead to believe? There’s also an implication made that the baby may have been led to crave blood due to Madeline’s (unnatural?) vegan tendencies. This was particularly amusing following the doc on Troll 2, but it’s a nice question mark to hang over the film anyway. In this regard, and in every other aspect of the film, more effort is put into Grace to make it a film that actually raises questions – and raises the bar on horror films (at least ones that want to actually be frightening) and this makes it a very easy film for fans to rally behind.

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