Raging Grace (2023)

Director: Paris Zarcilla

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Starring: Max Eigenmann, Jaeden Paige Boadilla, David Heyman, Leanne Best

Opening his feature debut on a calming scene, co-writer/director Paris Zarcilla shows a young girl named Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla) drawing a family picture. This scene is broken as Grace's mother, Joy (Max Eigenmann) awakens on the sofa, rushing to clean the house while making breakfast. The pair are undocumented Filipina immigrants who secretly stay within the homes that Joy is hired to clean while the owners are on holiday.

While at work, Joy is shown to endure her employers watching her in ways that are perverse, patronizing, or judgmental. All this work is to raise money so the pair can become British citizens through less than legal means, however it is a struggle to do her best for her daughter with so little. After she fills in for somebody to check up on the terminally ill Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), Joy finds herself offered a private job with a room on the grounds by Garrett's relative, Katherine (Leanne Best). The job seems perfect as it pays well while offering the parent and child a roof over their heads, although something dark lurks beneath to threaten the pair.

For his feature debut, Zarcilla ensures the large estate feels alive as the house's history looms as large as the frightful portraits on the walls. This is memorably captured during a sequence where Grace tries avoiding Katherine's gaze while the latter monologues, showcasing the sheer mastery on hand through effortless timing for impressive tension. It all adds to the unsettling tone, as a tremendously crafted atmosphere adds to the effective jump scares.

Central to it all are the performances, with Eigenmann powerfully capturing Joy's determination to give her daughter a better life. She fears that the smallest misstep may cost the pair this opportunity, so the mother keeps up appearances out of fear of the alternative, intent on escaping the trauma left by Grace's father. Boadilla wonderfully brings alive the titular girl unaware of the grave situation she and her mother are in, understandably wishing to live as a normal child and even to sleep on a bed.

The pair live in fear of Katherine, as Best tremendously conveys the thinly veiled xenophobia or the quickness to enforce her position lurking not far beneath the friendly appearances. She manages the grounds while Mr. Garrett is bedridden, as phenomenally brought alive by Heyman with a devilish smile.

It is all part of a story which spits on the rich's declarations of their own superiority, as their grand claims of helping migrants overlooks how they mistreat those that are helping them. As Joy and Grace find themselves at the whim of those whose kindness can quickly turn to cruelty, they are not looked upon as people, but playthings which are to be discarded after their use. Through this bold debut, Zarcilla effectively captures the immigrant experience through thrilling means within genre trappings.