Review by Joseph Fayed
The plight of an immigrant could easily be nightmare fuel. Raging Grace is Director Paris Zarcilla's SXSW award-winning debut that tells the story of one immigrant that takes a sinister turn but also mostly follows familiar horror tropes that leave its antagonists and its ultimate message not as terrifying as they were meant to be.
Joy is an undocumented Filipina immigrant trying to secure a better life for herself and her young daughter, Grace. When she lands a job as a caretaker that she simply can't refuse, she soon discovers a grisly secret about her employer that could jeopardize their lives.
Without wanting to play into stereotypes, the film handles its characterization of Joy well. Joy is very determined and, under her circumstances, does not buckle under whatever is thrown at her. Her arc revolves around respect from those who feel she has invaded their environment, and she consistently stands on her own two feet to demand that. Developing such strength for a character midway through would have been difficult for a protagonist meant to have endured the worst throughout her life. Shedding off her past so suddenly would have been too confusing. On the other hand, Joy's employers, Katherine and Mr. Garrett, both embody prejudice, which manages to contrast each other at times, but it's done to a laughable extent. Katherine is more upfront about hers, and the terminally ill Mr. Garrett slowly reels you in with his.
Any moment a character is supposed to feel angry is unintentionally hilarious. At one point Katherine has something that I can only describe as a Marty Wolf from Big Fat Liar-esque meltdown. This immediately turns into a serious confrontation between her and Mr. Garrett without addressing what just happened that led to said meltdown. This occurs just before the reveal of what exactly Katherine and Mr. Garrett have been hiding from Joy and Grace. The reveal isn't much of a mystery, as any clues on what may be hidden are kept until the third act, which is also when almost anything significant happens. This does not include a memorable sequence towards the end that is clearly meant to be paranormal, set up like a parody of Insidious.
Tonally and pacing-wise, Raging Grace is very messy. You will be engaged with the plot at times, but for all the wrong reasons. Its performances delve into camp territory, which ironically becomes the most memorable aspect of any of this. If you're expecting to explore the inner demons of a wealthy family and how their immigrant housekeeper is driven insane by them, you're expecting too much to be adequately fleshed out. This psychological thriller will only leave you second-guessing how this won over the grand jury at SXSW. In the meantime, go watch Nanny by Nikyatu Jusu for a better tale about an immigrant wanting to help her child, which comes at the cost of disturbing breaks from reality and heartbreak.