FILMMAKERS CANNOT OVERSTATE the fears and anxieties of the immigrant experience. There is no room for subtlety. You are wont to show it like it is. Recent examples thought it apt to plunge us back to the wreckage in His House and detain us in the stifling sweatshops in Nocebo. Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace has a different idea. The horror it chooses to show is more mundane: the looming threat of deportation and losing the ability to provide a comfortable life for their family at home.
No Sudanese voodoo nor cursed shape-shifting dogs. Just the ugly hand that is clasped around documented and undocumented OFWs’ necks.
Raging Grace opens with Joy, a Filipina working illegally in the United Kingdom, as she stumbles upon a weird but lucrative caregiving gig. She is to care for and live in a vast estate with a geriatric patient who suffers from an unidentified disease. Like so many Filipinos abroad, Joy is much too disillusioned to want to keep on living in the UK, but she hasn’t procured enough funds to book a trip home for her and her young daughter, Grace. Reluctantly, she takes on the job.
The first half sets this up well, awash with similar tension and unease as the final moments of Hannah Espia’s Transit. It unfolds like that, too: Joy’s lack of prospects leads to a frantic series of mishaps that, ultimately, land her the aforementioned job offer. It is a feeling that all Filipinos, abroad or stuck in their motherland, know all too well. That stomach-throbbing feeling that the cards are stacked against you but can’t afford to quit. Max Eigenmann captures that feeling vividly in her performance as Joy.
What happens next? Less scary. Even if this is the part when apparitions make themselves known. It feels like a totally different film. It oscillates to and fro psychological thriller and supernatural horror, with sprinkles of Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The film is also inextricably likened to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, as any horror film that highlights ingrained racism is bound to be. But unlike those films, there isn’t much of a clear focus here.
Much of this happens in the film’s exposition-heavy midsection, which fills us in on the history of the estate and its (white) English master. As twists begin to unspool themselves, the film begins to shift focus from our hapless immigrants to two white people, at odds in their conquest for a mass of wealth that others do not have. At one point it made me wonder if the Filipino immigrant experience is all but a shoo-in for the story, but I guess the theme of witnessing bad people unravel over ill-gotten riches is as Filipino as can be.
Ultimately, I found this film to be — at best — serviceable. It had some thrilling moments, but not so thrilling that it warrants a wholehearted recommendation. It fosters discussions about Filipino diaspora but has not made up its mind about what exactly it is trying to say.
The promotional materials hint at something of a cathartic feeling (Raging Grace as a title seems to do the same thing; I wanted Eigenmann to just unmoor from all this rage her character, Joy, is allowed to feel), and I wished that if it wasn’t grounding itself in realistic horrors it would have taken a page from Diana’s book from Nocebo: embrace thine rage and watch them burn.
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