Raging Grace, a thriller about an undocumented Filipina immigrant living in the UK and her daughter, makes its world premiere at this years SXSW Film Festival. Joy, played by Max Eigenmann, is a single mother struggling to take care of her young daughter, Grace. When Joy accepts a new job that pays much better than what she’s used to — and that will put a roof over their heads — she expects that her burden will be lightened. Little does she know what she is actually signing on to. What begins as a domestic thriller explodes into a feverish nightmare of vengeance and catharsis.
Joy works as a housekeeper, and the beginning of Raging Grace calls to mind “eat the rich” films like Parasite, where the rich have no issue at all expecting someone else to do all their housework and where the class differential is stark. Joy’s clients are all wealthy white British people, some who comment on how they’ve traveled all over Asia, or who fetishize her. We see Joy working hard while her white employers stare on lazily, greedily. Raging Grace is not just another “eat the rich” film, though, as what’s more important here is the immigrant story being told.
Raging Grace was described as a deeply personal project for writer and director Paris Zarcilla, a British born Filipino who grew up cleaning houses with his mother. As hate crimes towards Asian people and anti-Asian sentiments rose during the pandemic in 2020, Zarcilla turned to Raging Grace as a way to channel his frustrations at the expectation of immigrant assimilation in a post-colonial society. Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem about the Philippine-American war, “The White Man’s Burden” is displayed in the film’s second act and onwards, a nod to the history of Filipino relations with Western culture and the abhorrent treatment of Filipino people from Colonialism to today.
Joy and her daughter Grace are homeless. To get by, Joy stays in the homes of clients who are away on vacations. Joy is terrified by this, afraid that she will be caught and that she is putting herself and Grace in danger. Grace, too, is scared, and she acts out by being a prankster. It’s exasperating for Joy, who loves her daughter and knows that Grace doesn’t understand how precarious their situation is. Jaeden Paige Boadilla is excellent as the frustrated and scared little kid who just wants a normal life.
Joy hopes that her and Grace’s problems are solved when a new housekeeping gig practically falls into her lap. She’s asked to check on Mr. Nigel Garrett, an old, sickly man who lives in a large old home. His niece Katherine (Leanne Best) has been acting as a nurse to Mr. Garrett, and she hires Joy for some extra assistance with cooking and cleaning. Katherine only eats “simple foods”, a point she makes repeatedly. She’s the epitome of a rich white lady in her navy blue sweaters, pearls, and insistence on cheese sandwiches.
Mr. Garrett (David Hayman) is grateful to Joy and Grace. He tells Grace that he once had a Filipino nanny, and that he feels indebted and connected to “you people”. It’s a generalization and stereotype of Filipina women that he has in his head, but Grace thinks that she can use this to her advantage. While at first Mr. Garrett seems kind enough, he quickly becomes very creepy. He tells Joy all about the pampered lives that the chickens in cock-fighting rings lead (an obvious metaphor for the immigrant housekeeper, who is also a captive of sorts). He then insists that Joy calls him Lolo and that Grace calls him Master. It’s a quick escalation that you’ll wish you saw coming, along with Joy and Grace.
Raging Grace is genuinely scary. We first fear that Joy and Grace will be found out as they hide in empty houses, or that they’ll be separated by Immigration. We then fear for them as we realize along with them that Katherine and Nigel are not who they seem to be. The fear factor ramps up as the end of the film becomes loud, hallucinogenic, and nightmarish. Raging Grace uses very few special effects until the films ending, and while it could feel like too much at once, it’s an appropriate ending for where Raging Grace has been heading all along.
Raging Grace sets itself apart from other horror films with it’s personal and clearly defined viewpoint on immigration and colonialism. Writer/director Zarcilla handles the spiral from thriller to full-blown horror with ease. The small core cast is impressive, handling the change in tone smoothly. Joy and Grace are characters you won’t soon forget, and Raging Grace will surely leave a mark on you too.
SXSW takes place from March 10 – March 19
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