There’s a powerful social commentary running through U.K. horror flick Raging Grace that’s not always served by the film itself, which is neither scary nor all that convincing when it rummages through the toolbox of familiar genre tropes.
And yet, this debut feature from British-born Filipino writer-director Paris Zarcilla gets its message across despite all the jump-scares and haunted house hysteria. That message is simple but effective: In a world where immigrants toil at the behest of a privileged ruling class, to the point where they’re sometimes more indentured servants than free individuals, the horrors of everyday life far outweigh anything that a movie could invent.
The Bottom Line
More dark social satire than scary movie.
Much of Raging Grace explores that ongoing system of exploitation, following a single Filipino mom, Joy (Max Eigenmann), who cleans swanky London houses to make a living and pay for an overpriced visa that will allow her to stay in England. With her young and mischievous daughter, Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla), forever in tow, Joy moves from one job to the next, crashing in whatever mansion has been temporarily vacated by its owners, who hardly even know she’s around when they’re home.
More tongue-in-cheek dark satire than full-blown thriller, the film shows how desperate Joy is to land any job that will give her and her daughter some stability — which is why she so easily accepts employment at the creepy country estate of the elderly Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), the remaining heir to a vast family fortune who’s slowly dying from cancer.
Most people wouldn’t last an hour in the semi-abandoned mansion, which is covered in dust and sheets and ruled over by Garrett’s obviously evil niece, Katherine (Leanne Best) — a nasty aristocrat who pretty much treats Joy like garbage. But the latter has few options at this point, and so she sneaks Grace inside to give her daughter another temporary home, however unhappy it is.
It’s at this point that the horror plot kicks in, with Zarcilla tossing in a few lightweight frights as Joy and Grace discover that all is not what it seems in the Garrett household. While the scare tactics are familiar and never quite scary, the story gets more interesting when we learn that Joy is not the first Filipino caretaker of a family that’s been exploiting her immigrant community for several generations.
Raging Grace doesn’t quite manage to tie that social critique into its clunkier genre trappings, which hit near-Hammer levels of kitsch in the third act. (Another horror movie with a similar set-up — Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo, which came out last year— failed at the task as well, though it was more of a straightforward genre piece.)
Zarcilla does give the antics a classy sheen, with slick photography by Joel Honeywell that captures the interiors of Britain’s elite as if they belong in an Architectural Digest spread. The director also applies chapter headings, à la Ari Aster, with quotations by the classic novelist and colonial apologist Rudyard Kipling, underscoring how Joy and Grace are just the latest victims of a longstanding empire.
The mother and daughter prove to be a touching pair from the get-go as they navigate a world of freaky aristocrats and bougie London families unconcerned with their welfare. It’s certainly a one-sided look at things, and the native-born Brits are little more than caricatures here. Still, Zarcilla manages to build enough empathy for his heroines that, when push comes to shove, we don’t mind them dropping a few bodies in order to survive.
Eigenmann goes all-in as a woman who must weigh every action against the risk of deportation back to the Philippines, while Paige Boadilla cheekily plays a girl who, having been born in England to an unknown father, is free to roam and reap chaos. Grace is not exactly the “raging” character promised by the title, even if she gets brutal during the closing scenes, when the knives come out and blood gets inevitably spilled. But her refusal throughout the film to accept the lower status to which her mother, and so many other Filipinos, have been relegated in the past, could wind up being her salvation.