Mature and insightful aren’t two words often associated with the horror genre. Paul Solet, writer and director of Grace, aims to change that. We talked with him at SXSW and got his thoughts on his film and where the horror genre is headed.
Grace is screening Saturday, March 21st at 11:59 p.m. at the Alamo Ritz in Austin, Texas.
There are times when you meet a filmmaker and you think to yourself, “This person gets it.” Talking to Paul Solet happens to be one of those times. Unlike the majority of horror films today that are as satisfying as opening a shiny Christmas gift to find that fruitcake your family received twenty years ago, Solet’s Grace finds ways to startle you and make you alter your perspective at the same time on the ideas of motherhood. Solet understands that you can use any genre, even one that is underrated and often dismissed as nothing more than an excuse to show blood and breasts, to tell a story driven by characters. Sometimes you have to be shocked in order to open your eyes to important topics.
The film, ahem, gracefully explores the ideas of unconditional love and how deep the bond between mother and child runs, while also offering jarring images for horror fans. Solet took time to sit down with us and elaborate on the process he went through to make the film that people are literally fainting over.
Adam Sweeney: I went to the screening last night. It was a good reception. You could tell from the reaction of the people around me that they were very involved as they watched it. You wrote the screenplay. Tell us about the process of writing Grace and how the germinal idea was discovered.
Paul Solet: The personal genesis of the project came from a conversation with my mother, who when I was nineteen years old told me that I had a twin that didn’t make it. So that’s where the subject matter became compelling to me on a very personal and almost cellular level. Creatively, like a lot of ideas, and as a genre guy I am always looking for something to shake me up. It’s tough to find stuff that still shakes me up. But I was having a conversation with somebody and it came up that in actual medical science that if you’re pregnant and lose your child, sometimes labor is induced and carried to term. That is so potent a kernel of horror. The first draft of the script was written two weeks after that.
Yeah, I was raised by a single mother and we’ve had times where we discussed her hopes and fears of what would happen. You put a lot into that and you see how Grace becomes Madeline’s one object of hope, something that she can hold on to that’s concrete. I thought Jordan Ladd was great at tackling that as an actress. When you deal with such a heavy issue, it runs the risk of becoming a Lifetime movie. I didn’t feel like that at all. I felt that before we got into the scenes that will draw viewers in terms of suspense, the discussion of the pregnancy and interaction with her mother-in-law were some of the best chunks of the film, like when you are watching them at the dinner table. The subtle interaction between each other showed that you were developing the relationship very quickly, and it was very uncomfortable. It prepared us. You mentioned that the genesis came from a talk with your mother. What made you decide, other than the theme of a relationship between a mother and their child, to film the script around an almost entire female cast? You see the perspective of four different females that have to deal with how Grace impacts their lives.
It’s a story for everyone but it’s not a male tale as far as a protagonist. Every male in the film is tertiary. The school of writing I come from says that there are no accidents. There’s no more economical form of storytelling, maybe poetry. You need to know why it’s in there or it shouldn’t be in there. As far as Grace goes, it is a story populated by women. The point of the film, aside from the core bond that links a mother to a child, is the desire to have something you can not have. That’s what makes it not a Lifetime movie. That’s why it is relatable and why men love the movie too. It’s something everyone understands. It is sort of unfortunate that we understand but everyone has or has had something they desire that they can’t have. So these ideas are sort of fundamentally intriguing but in this genre you have a playground where you’re open to explore. That’s the saddest thing about current genre filmmaking, guys that don’t understand that are being brought in to do paint by numbers stuff.
That’s a subject that we have been discussing recently at Film School Rejects, the idea that right now the industry is so obsessed with making products that are familiar to people. Obviously it’s a business. so you have to make a profit. In keeping with what you’re saying about the characters, the question is how far are you willing to go to protect the things that you love? I think it unintentionally parallels what is going on in the horror genre right now, like how far are you willing to go to make a profit, and what are you sacrificing by doing it. The audience seems ready for original storytellers. Where do you see the horror genre heading?
I’m excited. I’m not pessimistic at all. I’m hopeful. We have great young filmmakers. We’re a group of people who are not doing this for the money. People do change but this group, I think it’s in our blood to change things. We’re making movies for us. Like you said, this is a business so you can’t blame people being about the bottom line. The money people are about the money. I can’t do that job. Its a different skill set that I’m not interested in. I focus on my job and the way I do that is that I have faith in the story. I have faith in the audience and believe that the cream has to rise to the top. I think a lot of other shit rises to the top for various reasons, like a marketing barrage. If you put eight million dollars behind a movie and hire brilliant people who are storytellers in their own right, they can create a mythology behind a film. Obviously a film like Grace, I am the publicity. I will run around festivals and convention with a doll of a dead baby strapped to me covered in blood. I don’t give a fuck. I have to get this movie to the audience.
It comes down to us. I’m not speaking as a filmmaker, I am speaking as a fan. In the genre, you have the unique power to demand stories. Word of mouth works in a way here that it doesn’t anywhere else. That’s one of the things that makes me so hopeful. You really can force a story. If we keep eating up and letting remakes open at forty million bucks, I mean it’s good for horror because it gets us in the door. When I do studio discussions, I always hear, “I have this remake, I have this remake.” I am a story guy. Any story that has potential is something I am interested in. There’s no dogmatic belief system. But at the same time, there is original storytelling that is under the radar and needs our support. Movies like Let the Right One In, it’s poetry. It’s a beautiful film. Look at Guillermo Del Toro. Every single decision he has made is with integrity. He believes in stories and understands the potential of the genre. He understands exactly what we’re talking about. He takes otherwise mundane ideas and blows them open. Look at Pan’s Labyrinth. If you set fifty studio executives down and showed them that film, they would say, “What am I suppose to do with this?” But we said, “Fuck you. This is an amazing film that transcends emotionally, intellectually and has atmospheric beauty. It explores all the potential of a fairy tale. So I have to believe in guys like Guillermo Del Toro.
I think Grace parallels Pan’s Labyrinth in a way. That film was about the Spanish civil war but was a fantasy film, so you broke it down to where a younger audience could understand it. In a way, through the use of the horror device you are helping, well females already have an understanding of the idea, but you’re helping a male heavy fan base understand what women are going through during child birth. We have to do whatever we can as members of the press to get good and original films out. We look forward to seeing where Grace goes beyond SXSW. Thanks again for the interview.
PS: Alright, brother.