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SXSW Review: ‘Raging Grace’ Elegantly Layers Colonialism with the Supernatural

Raging Grace SXSW
Credit: SXSW Film / Press

There has been no shortage of films that spotlight how awful wealthy white people are lately, in fact, you could say we are rich with them. I’m not tired of this theme yet, so I was eager to check it out from a slightly different angle with ‘Raging Grace.’ Rather than following the elite to a chic resort location or a dangerous private island, ‘Raging Grace’ features the everyday divide against the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Joy (Max Eigenmann) is an undocumented Filipino immigrant struggling to survive and provide for her daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla) by cleaning houses for affluent British families. The struggle is so real that Joy and Grace have been covertly living in the homes of the families they know are away on vacations, often cleaning up and getting out just barely under the wire of the owners’ return. This is surprisingly easy to get away with as the well-off homeowners seem to see through Joy as she cleans up their messes and cares for their children. Joy is saving up to pay a nefarious man to get her the documentation she needs to get better work and build a better life.

When a friend from church asks Joy to check in on an elderly gentleman she reluctantly agrees, only to be mistaken for the new housekeeper by the ailing man’s niece. Turns out this is a job that pays handsomely, quickly and in cash, so Joy sneaks Grace in and sets to getting the neglected mansion into tip top shape. In the process she realizes the niece, Katherine (Leanne Best), is poisoning her uncle, Mr. Garrett (David Hayman) to keep him sick…and that’s only the beginning of the dark secrets the house and the family hold.

One part haunted house story, one part familial horror, and one part mother-daughter struggle, ‘Raging Grace’ really has a lot to say, and manages to do it without feeling overstuffed with ideas. You immediately fall in love with the relationship between Joy and Grace, sensing that they’ve been through a lot that threatens to damage their bond forever. The skillful build of suspense and tension while the viewer tries to decide who, if anyone, can be trusted in the Garrett family keeps the story completely enthralling. While the mansion is eerie and dark shadows haunt every corner, the true horror, as always, is how people treat each other. Specifically how people treat those they deem to be in service of and beneath them.

This is the first feature for writer/director Paris Zarcilla, and he is coming out of the gate swinging with this beautiful film. The characters are incredibly complex with even our protagonist, Joy, making decisions we can’t fully get behind and the villains offering up short but shining moments of redemption. Ultimately Zarcilla leaves it to the audience to determine how the end fully shakes out and how to feel about those who remain.

The small but talented cast is given plenty of room to shine within the confines of the gothic mansion. Eigenmann turns in an excellent performance as Joy, never overplaying her hand. Her pain and determination are written on her face as her compassion and sense of duty shine through. Finding the right child actors for roles can be difficult and Boadilla does a great job as Grace. She keeps the role fun, while never letting us forget that she doesn’t have the luxury of the freedom of childhood.

Raging Grace’ distinguishes itself from the pack by layering themes of colonialism and generational racism alongside the supernatural and traumatic. This elegant, well-crafted film will be a must see for anyone who enjoys a solid thriller with real world stakes.

Raging Grace SXSW
SXSW Review: ‘Raging Grace’ Elegantly Layers Colonialism with the Supernatural
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