Review: Raging Grace Finds More Horror in the Immigrant Experience than Its Jump Scares

This article was written by Zachary Lee.

I did not realize the clever double meeting of the title of writer-director Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace until the credits rolled. The film follows a single Filipina mom, Joy (Max Eigenmann), who works various house cleaning jobs for affluent clients so she can obtain enough money for a permanent visa to remain in London with her young daughter, Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). Committed to standing still for as short a time as possible, Grace is a chaotic force who goes at great lengths to prank her mother, much to Joy’s chagrin as she is just trying to do her job well without drawing attention to herself.

I thought the film's title might be referencing Grace's carefree spirit in contrast to her apprehensive mother. On a deeper level, it speaks to how undocumented immigrant workers like Joy often have to mask their simmering rage behind a composure of grace and good faith while being actively exploited, or else they might lose their job. This is where Zarcilla’s film excels, in mining the horrors of how immigrants must often choose between dignity and survival. 

Rather than having its commentary clash with its genre tropes as often is the case with “elevated horror,” Raging Grace cleverly uses its themes as justification for the film to hit conventional horror beats. For example, once Joy realizes she needs to make more than she expected to obtain a visa, she begrudgingly accepts a job to upkeep the house of the elderly Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), who is kept comatose due to cancer. Managed by his niece Katherine (Leanne Best), it is one of those properties whose sheer size screams terror. When showing establishing shots of the house, Zarcilla and DOP Joel Honeywell do a clever job of using wide camera angles to highlight how small Joy is in comparison to the space; each closed door and locked cabinet (and there are many) seem rife with terrors ready to jump out at any moment.

This is usually the point where a sensible character in a horror film would jump ship, but for Joy, the thought never crosses her mind. Her options are limited and even if she feels that something sinister lurks within, to obtain her freedom, it is worth the risk. Her commitment to staying, not out of any morbid curiosity or love for adventure, underscores how for people in Joy’s position, they’re often thrown into horrific situations at the cost of their own sanity and bodies, though they rarely have the luxury to cry foul or escape. 

Furthermore, in Joy’s interactions with Katherine in particular, a lá Get Out, Zarcilla reminds that beyond any ghost or supernatural force, hell hath no fury than seemingly accommodating white people. Although there is the verisimilitude of care (Katherine insists Joy calls her by her first name), Katherine’s surface-level kindness and hospitality are simply a way to further control and subjugate Joy. When Joy tries to cook adobo chicken for her and Mr. Garrett, Katherine disapprovingly (but with a smile) tells her to cook “nothing too exotic,” and when Joy tries to add decor to her kitchen, Katherine critiques her, saying “Try to remember this is your place of work.” These scenes underscore how for people like Katherine, control is dangerously conflated with care, as she often thinks she’s doing Joy a favor in hiring her, not realizing the callousness of her mindset. 

It’s not all woe and horror though. In Joy and Grace’s attempts to remain whole and survive even while being actively demeaned, Zarcilla mines thrills. For example, when Joy moves in, she takes Grace with her, but keeps her hidden from Katherine’s watchful eye. In one clever sequence, Joy tries to distract Katherine before the latter notices Grace roaming around the house. Taking advantage of Katherine’s tendency to wax loquaciously, Joy strategically feigns interest in asking Katherine about her family’s history while Grace runs upstairs to hide. When a mischievous Grace pauses on the staircase to observe the dynamic, Joy exclaims “Hurry up!” in Tagalog. To a confused Katherine, Joy shares that it simply means that she’s excited. 

It is in moments like these and in highlighting the real-life horrors immigrants face that Zarcilla’s film excels, but his deployment of other traditional genre conventions could have used more polish. Jon Clarke’s score does a lot of atmospheric heavy lifting, with its mix of percussion and the sudden deployment of sound feeling less like it's in service to the scene at hand and more so a cue to indicate that this is a moment where the audience should feel scared. There are classic scenes where the jump scare can be seen from afar as well, and there’s frustratingly little that’s done new. When a character hides behind a refrigerator door and then reaches to close it, you know that something is waiting on the other side. Same goes for when a character appears to be sleeping, you know they’ll be quickly stirred when touched by another person. While these jolt the film with life, they never match up to the scares Zarcilla has established prior.

Ultimately, Raging Grace thrives most as a horror film when it unapologetically and unflinching captures, without caricature, the experiences undocumented immigrant workers like Joy must face on the daily. Even if the film’s jump scares are a little too predictable, Zarcilla reminds that for people like her, the worries of ghosts and haunted houses aren’t as frightening as present-day exploitation. Truly, today has enough troubles of its own.  

Raging Grace is now streaming on digital platforms.

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