I have a confession to make. I don’t think all horror films need to be scary, per se. It’s an unpopular opinion, but I think horror is so much more than just scares and monsters. Sure, a well-crafted jump scare is a delight and some of the best horror films terrify you on a deeper level, but there is more to horror than being simply scared.
But there is something to be said about horror films that don’t aim for traditional scares, but aim to simply fill you with dread and make you second guess your own instincts. And this is exactly where the brilliance of Raging Grace, Paris Zarcilla’s feature directorial debut, lies.
Joy (Max Eigenmann) is a Filipina cleaner who is struggling to save enough money for a black market visa to stay in the UK. She secretly brings her young daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla) with her to work and the two often stay at Joy’s employers’ houses that have been abandoned for a week or two for holidays in the sun.
When she’s offered a lucrative job, caring for the uncle, Mr. Garrett, of Katherine (Leanne Best) at their lavish house, it seems too good to be true. Spoiler alert: it is.
Katherine is very particular about things; she only wants simple food (Joy cooking chicken adobo is far too exotic for her, a nice, plain cheese sandwich will do), Joy isn’t to make personal calls during working hours and Joy is to give her uncle the medication each day without fail. The giving of the medication is somewhat of a horror show in itself as Katherine forces the pills down the comatose man’s throat by holding his nose closed.
For most of its runtime, Raging Grace barely resembles a horror film. Zarcilla instead focuses on the microaggressions (and some pretty blatant ones too) experienced by immigrants. Turns out, Joy isn’t the first Filipina caretaker for Mr. Garrett, who grew up in the Philippines.
As Joy plunges deeper into the Garrett family history and the horrifying secrets, she’s forced to break free from the cycle of exploitation. Filipino horror is having a bit of a moment at the moment, clearly. Both Raging Grace and Nocebo, Lorcan Finnegan’s memorable thriller, borrow heavily from the culture, but Raging Grace goes deeper into examining class and racism.
Eigenmann is convincing in the lead role and she is more than matched by the young Boadilla. Best is clearly having the time of her life in what at first appears to be a straightforward villain role, but she is prone to melodrama and hysteria.
Zarcilla skillfully uses familiar horror tropes to tell a powerful story. It might not be as straightforward a horror as many would hope, but Raging Grace packs a mighty punch and the horrors it does showcase are very real.