Not unlike the rage sparked within Bong Joon Ho’s now-classic Parasite, Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace explores a perverse relationship between a wealthy estate owner and their laborer. Rather than comment on class systems and populist rage, the writer-director frames this conversation in the context of immigration and colonization, which is on its face scarier than any slasher movie could ever be. Striking an often playful and darkly comic tone, the SXSW Jury Prize winner captivates as it delves deeper into psychological horror.
Max Eigenmann stars as Joy, an undocumented Filipina immigrant who bounces from house to house in London with daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla), staying while families are out of town and under the radar of their neighbors. Grace, embodying the spirit of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin in Home Alone, has a habit of playing pranks which will later come in handy.
Joy accepts a new position with a suspiciously high salary, one which will allow her to obtain a visa to stay in the country legally, caring for Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), an aristocrat slowly dying of cancer. Quickly offered the job by Garrett’s sinister niece Katherine (Leanne Best), Joy is expected to keep a low profile and not ask questions. This might not be so easy for Grace, who starts wandering and exploring the home, leading to a few close calls––until Mr. Garrett mysteriously wakes up and finds Grace at the foot of his bed. Joy, a trained nurse, restores Mr. Garrett to health much to the annoyance of Katherine.
Toying with the supernatural at times, with discoveries made by Grace and Joy throughout the mansion while Katherine sleepwalks, Raging Grace quickly reverts to its sharp commentary on the experience of the Filipina immigrants who have served the Garrett household before. They are not the first, and the film––framed by quotes from Rudyard Kipling’s racist, pro-colonial poem “White Man’s Burden”––explores the legacy of colonial rule. We learn the Garretts were traders and for a period of time the patriarch was raised by Nanna Gloria, a Filipina housekeeper with an interest in cockfighting.
Curious, mischievous, plotting, and––yes––at times raging, Grace ultimately drives Katherine out, looking upon Mr. Garrett as a grandpa for a time before the film takes a truly sinister turn in its third act. The Garretts are more interested in owning Grace as a companion in the name of nostalgia for the “good ol’ days,” hinting that this may be an unbroken cycle.
Zarcilla frames his film as more of an atmospheric dark comedy with a sharp commentary on colonization that is often both innovative and creepy. While it doesn’t quite achieve the genius of Bong’s angry satire, it does come close: it reveals exactly what is going on and who is in control of the situation. Like Parasite, it’s a film in which the more of this creepy home we explore, the more we learn about the lives of the family that inhabit it. For this reason one has to wonder if Garrett sees something of himself in the curious, sometimes sinister young Grace.
Raging Grace premiered at SXSW 2023.