RAGING GRACE l Blue Finch Film Releasing
Writer-director Paris Zarcilla’s final words to the audience in his new thriller RAGING GRACE come, not from a line of dialogue, but from a message at the end of the credits: “May you all rage gracefully.” It’s a fitting coda to a terrifying yet ultimately hopeful film about the real-world horrors that face Filipina immigrant Joy (Maxine Eigenmann) as she navigates motherhood and housing insecurity as an undocumented worker. The film excels at jump scare suspense and psychological horror, with Eigenmann’s desperate, determined performance grounding both in a sensitive and nuanced depiction of fierce survival.

Joy cleans houses for a living. The wealthy white families she cleans up after reward her for her hard work with racism and misogyny. A montage of harassment and microaggressions show the viewer how much Joy puts up with as she tries to forge a better life for herself and her daughter Grace (Jaeden Boadilla). She finds lodging by secretly staying in different families’ houses while they’re away on vacation, with multiple close calls emphasizing how precarious her position is as she tries to eke out a living.

When she checks on a terminally ill man named Mr. Garrett (David Hayman) as a favor for a friend from church, his niece Katherine (Leanne Best) assumes Joy is their new housekeeper. Seeing an opening that could improve their circumstances, Joy goes along with it and procures a higher-paying job and a place to stay in the Garrett household. She soon realizes, however, that the relationship between Katherine and her uncle is far more sinister than it appears, and that the opportunity of a lifetime may turn out to be a trap.

Though there are no supernatural elements to the film, it often plays like a haunted house movie. Joy and Grace wander around the huge estate — Joy does so purposefully, looking first for things to clean and then later for evidence to support her growing suspicions about Katherine and Mr. Garrett, while Grace does so with the curiosity and occasional carelessness of a child. Both of them encounter terrors in the house that they can’t explain, not until they start to see their “benefactors” for who they really are.

It takes Grace much longer to understand just how dangerous their position is, and the growing tension between her and her mother provides even more suspense in an already nerve-racking film. The walls close in with increasing speed, and it’s an insidious and devastating descent as Joy’s problems compound and her avenues for escape close off one by one.

Jon Clarke’s percussive, energetic score keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat while clever framing and blocking emphasize the dangers that lurk in every corner of the house. Katherine doesn’t know that Grace is living there, and RAGING GRACE employs nail-biting cat-and-mouse scenes as Grace tries to evade detection. The film moves quickly, dropping troubling hints at past traumas that take on heartbreaking meaning as the story comes full circle.

Joel Honeywell’s sharp cinematography keeps pace, slowing down when necessary to underscore the film’s unfolding horrors. A menacing slow push during a scene that turns the film on its head is especially effective. It’s all the more memorable for gradually pressing the viewer into Joy’s discomfort; we are no more able to escape it than she is.

Like those closing words, though, Joy is able to rage gracefully, delivering a powerful speech at one point that ends with this reminder: “We don’t need your help. You need ours.” It’s an affirming moment that underscores Joy’s strength, resilience, and faith. RAGING GRACE is a taut suspense story about the horrors of a society that fails undocumented immigrants, especially women of color, but it is also a story of hope in the face of those horrors.

RAGING GRACE had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Make sure to read our SXSW coverage here.

Jessica Scott
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