‘Raging Grace’ Is A Haunting Yet Hopeful Tale About Exploitation and Immigration [SXSW 2023 Review]

Raging Grace

Paris Zarcilla‘s feature film debut Raging Grace is a deeply personal look at colonialism, identity, and cycles of racism. Centered around Filipino immigrant Joy (Max Eigenman) and her daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla), Zarcilla draws from his own experiences cleaning houses with his mother. But here, Joy and Grace experience a special layer of hallucinogenic hell at the hands of their rich, white, racist employers.

Joy wants to provide the best possible life for her daughter. To do that, she cleans houses for rich white British families. An opening montage shows Joy enduring an unending stream of racism, from doubting her ability to speak English to openly sexualizing her and fetishizing her race. These everyday aggressions are portrayed as unfortunately normal, the price Joy is forced to pay in the name of financial stability. And even then, she can’t even afford a safe place to live. She is trapped in these racist cycles and while she so desperately wants to get out, her daughter takes precedence, even when Grace doesn’t understand.

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Raging Grace truly shines when Zarcilla gives Joy incredible complexity and nuance as a mother just trying to survive. Plus, Eigeman’s performance as Joy is painfully perfect as she really brings Joy’s strength and trauma to the screen. But, she is never defined by that trauma.

Then, a new job falls into Joy’s lap: caretaking for the sick old Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), a wealthy man with a massive estate. It’s a seeming dream come true, offering decent pay and a cozy place for her and Grace to live. She does have to lie about having a daughter. But it’s a small price to pay for housing security and a consistent salary. Oh, and of course, there’s the other problem of yet another racist employer, Katherine (Leanne Best), who once again makes harmful assumptions about Joy. But for Joy it’s nothing new, just another job that requires nerves of steel and more courage than many of us will ever have to muster.

Then the supernatural elements begin to creep in. What starts as a drama about the immigrant experience begins to shift into the realm of horror tropes. But, importantly, Zarcilla doesn’t want this to be purely a horror film in the traditional sense. The horrors Zarcilla wants the viewer to focus on are the horrors that take place at the hands of those in positions of power. Workers like Joy aren’t human in their eyes; they’re just pawns to maintain order, tasked with remaining invisible while cleaning homes and raising children. Zarcilla never wants the viewer to forget this even during jumpscares and appearances from ghostly apparitions.

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But as Joy and Grace become fodder for the selfish and repulsive Mr. Garrett, Raging Grace begins to lose focus. The first 50 minutes are a methodical, tense slow burn, and then very quickly the film starts moving at a breakneck pace. While this is where the supernatural elements really start to kick in, the story begins to rush to the end, leaving more questions than answers, particularly about the diabolical Mr. Garrett. However, even when this part of this story feels underdeveloped, Zarcilla never loses sight of Joy’s humanity. She and Grace have become fodder for a rich white family’s drama, and Zarcilla wants us to really understand the implications of human bodies being used as playthings.

And really, that’s what this whole film is interrogating. People of color, especially in service jobs, are often treated as objects rather than human beings. Only when they are providing something to white folks are they deemed “useful”. Even then, they’re fetishized and seen as “exotic” and “different”. Zarcilla is juggling a lot of themes with Raging Grace and, overall, he manages to deliver a heart-wrenching film about diaspora and leaving home to find what you think is a better life.

Despite pacing issues and a lack of clarity around certain plot points, Zarcilla crafts a deeply human horror story that ends on an incredibly bittersweet note. And yet Raging Grace is still about hope. Cycles of racism and trauma feel impossible to break, yet here, Zarcilla shows that it is possible. It’s painful, it’s terrifying, but it is possible because people like Joy and Grace are stronger than any white employer. With Raging Grace, Zarcilla joins the ranks of filmmakers like Nikyatu Jusu who are decolonizing horror and telling stories not often seen in the genre.



Despite pacing issues and a lack of clarity around certain plot points, ‘Raging Grace’ is a deeply human horror story that ends on an incredibly bittersweet note.

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