October 9, 2012

Death Rattle Double Feature: Bloody Babies

The original Double Feature I had planned for this week is being postponed due to unforeseen issues with one of the movies I was gonna review, so I had to scramble to come up with something quick this week. A pregnancy/baby-related Double Feature is something I had contemplated when I was coming up with ideas for themes, but the plan was to pair up GRACE with an indie comedy about pregnancy just to be weird, not another horror movie. But, again, this was rushed and I had to take advantage of what was available to me, so I'll be covering two baby-horror movies that are very similar - one of which I have seen before but wasn't a fan of, and the other being a movie that I wasn't ever planning on seeing because I'd heard nothing but bad things about it. Praise Allah the latter film was only 80 minutes, but I'll get to that.

The first movie I'm reviewing is GRACE, which came out a few years ago to a lot of buzz and much praise from the horror community. I saw it when it came out and those of you who have been with me for a while know that I wasn't particularly fond of it at the time, and a lot of that had to do with hype and expectations, which can be my worst enemies when it comes to watching newer movies. Even though I didn't necessarily think highly of it at the time, I didn't think it was a bad movie. A tad overrated, yes, but not bad. Part of why it was disappointing to me back then had to do with all these things I'd heard about the film being gross and making people faint at screenings. The film's director, Paul Solet, was even proud of the fact that people were passing out at the sight of whatever shocking images were shown on screen. I don't blame him; I'd be proud of that too, especially if it was my first film as a director. The thing is, if you're gonna go around boasting about this, your movie better bring it. Well, I watched GRACE with all of that in mind, and it brought very little in terms of being shocking. I'm not a tough guy or super jaded when it comes to gore by any means. There's still a lot that makes me cringe and I'm a wuss when it comes to trauma on certain parts of the human body, but when I first saw this movie, I couldn't help but wonder what pussies saw this movie at its initial screenings and passed out. Just sayin'.

Fast forward a couple of years later and here I am watching GRACE once again. Now that I know what to expect in terms of how it all plays out, I have to say that this second viewing really helped as far as winning me over. This time, I was able to watch the movie through a different set of eyes and with a level of awareness that was much greater than my fist go-'round. To those who haven't seen GRACE yet for whatever reason, the story is pretty simple: A single mother attempts to raise her newborn baby in light of her husband's death, and she realizes very quickly that her child is anything but normal. The baby looks like an average infant, but, for some reason, it attracts more flies than a pile of shit, it smells awful, and it seems to have developed a taste for human blood. In fact, its tiny body immediately rejects anything but human blood. Throw in a crazy mother-in-law who secretly lives vicariously through lead character Madeline (Jordan Ladd) because of a longing desire to be a mother again and a lesbian mid-wife with some relationship drama and that about sums it up.

Without revealing too much, I'll just say that the character of Madeline's mother-in-law is fascinating thanks to how she's developed throughout the movie and, of course, how she's played by actress Gabrielle Rose. It wasn't long after she first spoke in the film that I wanted to punch her in the face, and throughout the movie she's essentially dissected in a way that reveals a truly twisted woman who you can almost sympathize with because of how obviously troubled she is. Whether you like her or not, there's so much depth to her character, which is something I really appreciated this time around. If Paul Solet wanted to, he could have easily made a companion piece to this film that shows everything from her perspective; it obviously would have been more psychological and not have had the same gory pay-offs, but it would've been interesting.

Something else that was noticeable this time around was how much the movie tries to beat the Vegan lifestyle over your head. I don't even remember this aspect of the film, which is strange considering it's anything but subtle. Initially I wondered why this was in the movie and to the extent that it was (Madeline literally watches those PETA propaganda videos of animals being slaughtered as if she were watching daytime television), but it all makes sense as the film progresses. I don't know what Paul Solet's diet consists of, but the relieving thing about the Vegan angle here is that it can either be interpreted as pro or anti-Vegan because of certain things that occur in the movie. Personally, I have Vegan friends and I enjoy Vegan cuisine from time to time, but I can't fucking stand it when people are preachy about it, or anything else for that matter

At the risk of rambling on too much, I'll try to wrap this up. Aside from some holes in the plot and the general storytelling, as well as the fact that it ultimately doesn't do much that other movies before it haven't done in terms of portraying pregnancy or motherhood as horrifying, GRACE is solid. It's well-acted all around and the characters are very interesting with the exception of Madeline's husband (I was kinda glad he died, because homeboy was dull as dishwater), and, as I said in regards to Madeline's mother-in-law in particular, there's a lot of depth to not only the characters but in regards to the weight of Madeline's situation as a mother. Ironically, GRACE also looks amazing despite a muted, decayed color scheme and aesthetic that's prevalent throughout the entire movie. The film's "dead" look is fitting and works well, and there are a lot of impressive but subtle camera shots and movements throughout the movie that add a little something extra in terms of GRACE being cinematic. Jordan Ladd turns in a great performance as well, stripping away any sense of glamor and vanity for the sake of portraying her character realistically and emphasizing the inherent weariness and paranoia of someone dealing with what is essentially a zombie baby. Another important thing worth noting is that GRACE shocks without trying too hard. I have a lot to say about this movie, but I think you get the gist of it. GRACE is good shit. Moving on.

The second movie is one I had no desire whatsoever to watch because of its reputation, but I gave it a shot because of a need to come up with content at the last minute. To put it as bluntly as possible, IT'S ALIVE is as bad as everyone says it is. In fact, it's worse than I expected. I'm pretty forgiving with bad movies, just as long as it brings something to the table. If a movie is poorly-acted and poorly-written but at least has some good gore or decent music, that's something. Well, this remake of a film originally written and directed by Larry Cohen unfortunately falls short in pretty much every area that matters.

The story presented in this film is very similar to the one told in GRACE. A young woman (Lenora, played by Bijou Phillips) gives birth to a baby that's essentially a monster. In the case of this movie, however, the baby being a monster is a bit more literal. It rapidly grows inside its mother's womb, and it gets to the point where it has to be taken out of Lenora three months before she's due to give birth. And even when it's at home and developing, the baby displays qualities that are much more advanced than other babies its age. For most parents, a child with advanced development would be a blessing, but in this case it's a curse. If people are around the baby and neither of its parents are paying attention, those people will turn up dead. And not just dead, but dead as fuck. Blood splattered all over the place, limbs everywhere, bodies torn to shreds. At first, no one other than Lenora catches on to this, and so she basically acts as an accomplice to her infant son and does her best to hide the bodies and erase any evidence of the deaths.

The premise sounds interesting enough (and it should be said that I haven't seen the original Larry Cohen film, so I'm not sure how similar the two movies are), but the execution is very poor. Right from the start, it's a given that there's a huge requirement for suspension of disbelief with this movie, and that's something that I and I'm sure more of you are totally fine with. But even with the suspension of disbelief in mind, this is still a badly-written movie. Almost everything about IT'S ALIVE is lackluster. It seems every actor in the movie is phoning it in (or just aren't being directed very well), and for some reason it sounds like a majority of the male characters are dubbed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which I found to be funny, but it doesn't change the fact that just about all of the key players are dull. Bijou Phillips, to be fair, tries hard and appears to be taking her role seriously, whereas everyone else in the movie is just there. Cinematically, the film is bland and there's no style, tension, suspense, etc. whatsoever to it. What the film does have a fair amount of, however, is violence and bloodshed, but for the most part you never see the baby in action, and when you finally do see the baby killing people, it's an awful-looking CGI baby; instead, you mostly just see the aftermath or massive amounts of blood splattering on walls when the murderous infant strikes. Ugh. Just trust me when I say that you should avoid this at all costs.


  1. I agree with you on both films, with the possible exception that I think you were a bit generous to IT'S ALIVE. I quite enjoyed GRACE myself, but it wasn't something that I feel much need to revisit. Well done, sir.

    1. I've seen a lot worse than the IT'S ALIVE remake, plus it had a decent body count and a couple of the kills were good, so that's something. Plus, I may have given it an extra point just for ending when it did and not taking up much more of my time. :-)

  2. Pretty spot on. I remember Grace getting a fair amount of hype before it was released so I was just a little let down by it. Need to revisit that one. The It's Alive remake, however, is as useless as movies get. Just good for nothing at all.

    1. Yeah, I was surprised how much more I liked GRACE this time around.