Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on September 24, 2009, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


If I may get a little incestuous for a moment… It’s always nice to see filmmakers whom Fango gave an early boost making good, and Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray and DVD of Grace showcase three directors who were part of our Blood Drive short-film compilation discs. Not only are there Mean to an End creators Paul Solet, who wrote and helmed Grace, and Jake Hamilton, who chronicled its trip to the Sundance Film Festival, but also Mainstream’s Adam Barnick, who put together its exemplary behind-the-scenes package.

The multiple featurettes demonstrate that this story of a very unusual birth and the unsettling events that follow was a (no pun intended) labor of love, and it’s also clear from the conviction with which Solet spins his weird tale that it was a passion project for him. First excerpted by Solet as a six-minute short of the same title, the narrative is anchored by Jordan Ladd’s terrific performance as Madeline Matheson, whose dispassionate expression while having sex with husband Michael (Stephen Park) speaks volumes. For her, the act is all about procreation only, but her joy at becoming pregnant is literally shattered when a car accident kills not only Michael, but her developing fetus as well. Madeline decides to bring her child to term, and after the birthing overseen by her midwife/former lover Patricia (Samantha Ferris), the infant, to everyone’s surprise—except, evidently, Madeline’s—turns out to be alive.

But not well. Though little Grace initially appears healthy, she soon develops a nasty rash, a foul smell that attracts flies and an appetite for blood. Madeline deals with all this with the patience and attention any new mom would give her baby, setting up flypaper and mosquito netting over Grace’s crib, and buying and draining red meat for feedings. It’s not the conventional mother-child relationship—and it’s threatened by the schemings of Michael’s mother Vivian (Gabrielle Rose) to take her new granddaughter away from Madeline. Needless to say, this results in Grace receiving her nourishment from fresher sources…

Deftly avoiding the clichés attendant to not only the killer-child subgenre but those involving malefic moms as well, Solet exhibits a control over his material uncommon for first-time feature filmmakers. Perhaps almost to a fault: A couple of black-humored moments notwithstanding, the tone is uniformly grim, with little rise or fall in the pacing, which gets to be a bit much even given the brief 84-minute running time. Grace, however, is one of those movies that rewards a second viewing, since familiarity with how it will proceed puts the characterizations into sharper relief, and they are all finely honed. Evident from the start are the strong contributions of the behind-the-scenes artisans, including the evocative cinematography by Zoran Popovic, the precise production design by Martina Buckley and Austin Wintory’s moving/chilling score.

These craftspeople and more are showcased in Barnick’s quintet of featurettes, which have not been arranged on the disc menus in the order he intended (though they are listed that way on the Blu-ray case). So, to cover them in the correct sequence: “Grace: Conception” offers insight into how the project came to be, with glimpses of the more expressionistic short and Solet’s revelation that his initial scenario was more of a “creature feature” than the humanistic drama it ultimately became. “Grace: Family” explores the writer/director’s ambition to create “a real story with real characters,” buttressed by observations on their roles by the entire lead cast, including Ladd, who admits an attraction to parts that “scare” her. The movie’s visual stylists get their turn in “Her Mother’s Eyes: The Look of Grace,” in which Popovic, Buckley et al. go into detail about how they supported and expanded on Solet’s vision (as expressed in a lengthy visual and written “manifesto,” which we get peeks at). Everything from fly-buzz sound FX to film stock is covered here, with intriguing comments like Buckley’s observation that one home is designed to look “more like a hotel room than a house.”

The best of all these segments is the longest: “Grace: Delivered,” which spends a few days on set. “What’s most exciting for us is to watch it all happen,” says one of Solet’s visiting parents, and they’re right. This is an intimate, revealing and also highly entertaining minidocumentary that covers all bases, from blocking to staging stunts and FX to finessing performances. And it comes to a perfect indie-production climax, as the crew races to complete two shots in only six minutes before the last shooting day ends. Finally, “Lullaby: Scoring Grace” focuses on Wintory, who was involved with the film from the script stage and offers insight into the sometimes unusual creation of his music.

The aftermath of all that effort is examined in Hamilton’s “Grace at Sundance,” including the much-reported pair of faintings at the Park City film fest. Solet revels—maybe a tad too much—in all the notoriety and strong reviews he receives here, though he’s also shown to be devoted to his “baby,” handing out promo postcards on the street to get butts in seats for his screenings.

Some of the info covered in the featurettes is duplicated—by their own admission—in the first of two commentaries, by Solet and producer Adam Green, joined midway through by Popovic. Still, this track is worth a listen; it’s less scene-specific than anecdotal—opening with details on the film’s fly wrangling and a bar fight during production—and often veers off-topic to more general concerns such as the importance of story over technical values, the way in which even independent filmmakers can have their ambitions tempered by producers and how crews appreciate the “family” vibe on indie features. Solet returns the gesture by not only peppering the discussion with shout-outs to his collaborators, but reciting a litany of thank-yous he wasn’t able to include in the end-credits crawl.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a second commentary by Solet and Ladd, which is more intimate and has a lot to offer regarding Grace’s heroine. That doesn’t mean the duo don’t have fun, though—if enough people listen to this one, the phrase “R. Kelly commentary” might catch on to describe tracks in which the participants simply describe what’s happening on screen, and certain Ladd fans will appreciate a late-in-the-game discussion of her breasts—which aren’t fully bared in Grace, but were in another movie by unspecified “less deserving people.” (We’ll go there—it was Broken Lizard on Club Dread.)

Both commentaries make reference to deleted scenes that aren’t visible on either disc, but that’s not the truly egregious omission: The Grace short is only included if you pick up the DVD at Best Buy. It’s a vital part of the project’s history, and as such an unfortunate choice to be used to prod buyers to pick up the disc at the electronics giant. The 2.35:1 transfer bears a certain amount of noise in the Blu-ray showcase, but the exemplary use of light and color shines through nonetheless, and the PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, like the movie overall, are low-key but deliver the goods.

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