Joy (Max Eigenmann) is a Filipina immigrant living in the UK with her young daughter, Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). Because of her undocumented status, Joy struggles to make ends meet and provide a safe, stable home for Grace — often living secretly in the homes she cleans while the wealthy families who live there are away on vacation. But when the aloof and uptight Katherine (Leanne Best) hires Joy as a live-in care-worker for her terminally ill uncle, Mr. Garrett (David Hayman of the Fisherman’s Friends series), life seems to be looking up for mother and daughter — until Grace discovers a dark secret that threatens their future in the house.
Written and directed by Paris Zarcilla, Raging Grace is a chilling gothic mystery that masterfully combines tension and dread with social commentary. While I wouldn’t classify Raging Grace as horror per say — the elements of terror in the film take a back seat to the mystery, suspense, and family drama — there are plenty of genuinely unsettling and creepy moments. This is Zarcilla’s first feature film, and his ability to balance complex themes, multiple genres, and a strong social message is impressive.
While some of the plot’s twists and turns were more predictable than others, this is still one of those movies where the less you know about the story going in, the better. Part of the film’s impact comes from challenging the audience’s expectations of who to trust, and multiple characters reveal new, unexpected sides of themselves as the mystery unfolds.
The emotional heart of the film is the relationship between mother and daughter, and the strain that racism and discrimination put on their bond. The young actor Jaeden Paige Boadilla gives a standout performance as Grace, a girl caught between her mother’s desperate situation and her growing independence. Prone to playing silly pranks, Grace is also beginning to question her mother and the conditions they live in, while still being far too young to understand the broader political and social forces that make their existence in the UK precarious. It’s heartbreaking to watch Joy make decisions out of necessity that end up confusing and alienating her daughter.
The real horror is, of course, white supremacy. But Zarcilla is careful to humanize even his most monstrous characters, forcing us to consider how racism and oppression manifest in complex ways at the interpersonal level — as well as the impact that political and state expressions of white supremacy (like deportation and classifying people as “illegal” immigrants) have on individuals and families.
Overall, Raging Grace is a remarkable feature debut from a vibrant and necessary new voice in film. It’s clear that Zarcilla has something to say. Moreover, he’s a filmmaker who can deliver a powerful message with style and fineness. This is one haunted house tale that you definitely don’t want to miss.
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