Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace is not so much of a horror movie outside of some well-timed jump scares and a few nightmares here and there. Instead, the U.K. gothic drama focuses on the exploitation of immigrants and how people dilute customs and take them on themselves. These are the people who take care of every essential need those who might be well off are too passe to do themselves. They even use that same power structure as a means of control or a gross sense of ownership over those seeking a home to belong to.
Joy (Max Eigenmann) is a Filipina immigrant working as a housekeeper to make ends meet. She has a daughter named Grace (Paige Boadilla), who’s energetic and a bit mischievous. We’re talking pranks like putting gravy in coffee and jam in ketchup – nothing too serious other than being inconvenient. Grace’s nature is another headache for Joy as they are living in the U.K. illegally. There’s a constant clock of getting enough money to have a home and get the paperwork done so they can drop the anxiety of being arrested.
One day, Joy gets the break she’s been looking for with some accidental serendipity. When she agrees to cover a shift, she meets a woman named Katherine (Leanne Best). The task is straightforward; Katherine will pay Joy a lot more than she usually makes in months and allow her to stay in a sprawling mansion if she agrees to keep an eye on her extremely sick uncle, Mr. Garrett (David Hayman). There are some rules to the arrangement. For starters, Katherine is the only person who gives the medicine, Joy can only cook simple foods (and none from her native background), and it’s not so clear Katherine is keen on Grace making the trip.
Joy has to take the job and keep Grace out of line with Katherine’s vision. We are talking about a kid that makes a point of looking for trouble. As you can imagine, this is not the easiest of tasks. However, Grace’s curiosity is helpful in this colossal compound. Something is wrong about the arrangement or the conditions in which Joy is supposed to care for everything. While sneaking out one night, Grace sees something extraordinarily troubling, and the film kicks into gear halfway through to find what that entails. Raging Grace takes its time moving through the themes it wants to investigate. There is something constantly bothering Joy concerning her past. Through photographs, the audience sees she had another life with hopes and dreams, and the backstory surrounding Joy’s father may have robbed her of that.
Eigenmann and Boadilla utilize the nature of their characters to build this dynamic well. Joy wants to get through the day without trouble and find safety for her small family. Her character exists within a certain distance from the outside world because it’s hard to trust someone under these circumstances. Grace is a kid that understands that, but is still frustrated by the circumstances they have to live under. For all the typical kid troubles she gives (and a certain tendency to pop up), Grace is attentive. Other than the mystery as to why things are the way they are in the Garrett residence, the mother/daughter relationship is where Zarcilla keeps things on a specific pathway.
Cinematographer Joel Honeywell frames much of Raging Grace like a ghost story pairing with Jon Clarke’s score, adding a layer to that dreary, haunted essence the film strives to invoke. For the many things the film tries to do, its more effective trademarks are honing in on the themes of losing parts of yourself, whether it be stolen and co-opted by those outside of a particular way of life or being disconnected from it for so long. Joy longs for a safe space while keeping the Flipino customs she holds dear alive.
What happens when employers or supposed well wishes only allow you to show who you are through the lens they deem acceptable? It feels suffocating as some of the aspect ratios of Raging Grace at certain moments. The rage isn’t blunt or swift – it runs throughout bloodlines, finding a way to get out of generations of service to people who only look at others through the views of lazy stereotypes and certain gain.