We Still Say Grace (2021)
Directed by: Brad Helmink
Written by: Brad Helmink, John Rauschelbach
Starring: Arianne Zucker, Bruce Davison, Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, Holly Taylor, Rita Volk, Xavier J. Watson
Say your prayers!
From most accounts today, religion is on its way out. But not so much in horror, with classics, as well as a few of the more recent releases – the religious horror has always been a mainstay sub-genre. With trends in real world attitudes towards religion changing, I believe (wink wink) it’s also changing how we watch. Taking The Exorcist for example, under the original context, I can imagine it would have had a different reception than it would if released today. Not to say that it wouldn’t work. But when you have an audience which you can safely assume to believe in some sort of higher power, it’s maybe going to hit the viewer differently.
The more modern perspective of a religious horror would be that of the outsider to faith, which is where We Still Say Grace comes in. A car breaks down near an isolated farm, and within it: 3 godless young men. Pulling up the farm to ask the family occupying for help. They arrive narrowly missing a ceremonial sacrifice of the family, conducted by the father, Harold (Bruce Davison). This is then shown as a trick to test his family’s true faith in the lord above. Harold being the good Christian man he is, believing there to be some divine reason for them being here, of course lets the boys stay and offers to help fix their car. However, they soon discover his hard-line approach towards religion: no alcohol, no swearing, and never taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain. They’re left with no option to phone for assistance and while stuck in the middle of nowhere – they stay.
Bruce Davison’s performance as Harold is the centrepiece of the movie. In complete isolation, and as the head of his family, he’s created his own little world that everyone else steps into. We are firmly in the perspective of the boys here as incomers. It’s a rather odd performance that toes a line between an almost comic, bumbling church reverend, and a dominating, aggressive patriarch. Think Ned Flanders as John Goodman’s character in 10 Cloverfield Lane. His fundamentalism and quiet assertion over his family gives this looming presence, while at the same time is twinned with a completely polite and clean-cut demeanour to his guests. Until they cross his sensibilities that is.
The plot doesn’t really make much movement starting off. The guys hang around, trying to fix some element of the car until something gets in their way. The old man does something creepy. Rinse and repeat. For a fairly short movie, this takes up a good chunk of the run time. I feel as though there’s more interesting dynamics to explore here but it just doesn’t. The character of Harold is established, then wears the weight of the film for the first half of the movie. There is one small possible incestuous moment, which is brutally uncomfortable – but makes you question how far the families isolation really goes. But it’s just played off for its weirdness factor and moves on.
We then shift perspective to his restless daughter, Maggie (Holly Taylor). Questioning her family’s attitudes, and her permitted outlook on her future, she longs for greener pastures. Breadcrumbed through the start of the flick, her desire for a way out then becomes the central focus, and in turn, almost a different film entirely. She begins to take a shine to one of the new arrivals and sees him as a representation of everything she wants. Here, Taylor’s character performance steals the show. Played excellently and with a more straight forward presentation than the father character. With a little bit more depth to her, she’s the one you’ll be rooting for.
For me, this is what the film always should’ve been about. This girl who’s not of the same kind as her family, and from the tiniest bit of exposure to the modern world, the whole thing comes crumbling down. The Maggie sections are where it feels most focused, and far more interesting from a character perspective. Whereas those revolving around the father, more so seem like a showcase for Davison’s acting, and only really to set up a more engaging portion of the movie.
I’ve also got to mention, while at some points feeling at odds with the somewhat aimless script, there’s something to be said with how this film has been shot, there are some honest to god (last one) moments of beauty here. The film looks good for the entire thing, but specifically there’s a handful of stand-out moments where the framing and structure of the shot could easily be a piece of art in itself.
Overall, it’s a pretty serviceable film. Some interesting character perspectives, but a bit wishy-washy. Plot wise, there’s nothing really central to the whole thing to pull you along aside from a creepy old religious guy – but presents itself as if there’s more to it. Doesn’t really kick into gear until around halfway through, but with some curiously watchable lead performances, it’s enjoyable enough that you won’t mind them fumbling around with the gear stick for half an hour.
Available now on VOD.