Raging Grace

Fantasia 2023: Raging Grace Review

Award winner pulses with the horrors of everyday reality

Paris Zarcilla’s debut feature Raging Grace is a domestic thriller that taps into a global issue that few films are willing to address. Similar to many people in her position, undocumented Filipina immigrant Joy (Max Eigenmann) finds herself trapped in the field of professional servitude. Taking housecleaning work wherever she can in London, she moves from job to job dealing with others’ filth. Belittled and objectified on a daily basis, she will do whatever it takes to provide for her daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla).

Saving up to afford a visa that will allow them to stay permanently in England, an opportunity arises that is simply too good to pass up. Offered a thousand pounds a week, and a room to stay, to be the housekeeper for the wealthy but ailing Mr. Garrett (David Hayman), Joy believes her luck is finally turning around. Sure, she has to sneak her daughter into the house and deal with his condescending niece Katherine (Leanne Best), but that is par for the course given her line of work.

At first, everything seems to go according to plan for Joy. The mischievous Grace hides every time Katherine enters the home and the bedridden Mr. Garrett, apparently dying of cancer, barely makes a sound. However, the grand mansion is full of secrets and Katherine’s strange behaviour leads Joy and Grace to believe something far more sinister is afoot.

Winner of the 2023 SXSW Grand Jury Award in the Narrative Feature competition, Raging Grace takes its time building its chills. Zarcilla uses simple, but effective, tools to create a growing sense of unease. Whether it is the way Grace abruptly appears behind her mother without a sound, the haunting dreams that Joy increasingly has, or turning a scene where a character is sleepwalking into a moment of sustained tension, there is plenty here to keep one unsettled.


Displaying a strong grasp for the genre, Zarcilla manages to make a character coming off of a drug high carry the same fever dream nightmare as a person now starting one. While the horror beats are effective, the most chilling aspect of Raging Grace is its pointed social commentary. Similar to Black Girl and Nanny before it, Zarcilla’s film captures the damaging legacy of colonialism through the eyes of a servant.

Joy’s willingness to endure constant disrespect with grace, in order to provide for her child, is its own form of strength. However, it is viewed as a trait to be exploited by those in positions of power. What makes the divide between the haves and have nots so stark is the way the wealthy convince themselves they are giving people like Joy a “better life.” They expect her to be grateful despite treating her like an obedient animal that can be easily bought and broken in.

As Zarcilla’s film notes, in reality, it is the wealthy who owe a great debt to those condemned to a life of servitude. It was the maid and housecleaners who not only kept the home running but raised the children of their employers while often sacrificing their own families and cultures as a result. When Joy definitively tells Katherine that “we don’t need your help, you need ours,” one can feel the gut punch of truth reverberate from the screen.

Although the social commentary greatly enhances the horror beats, especially as Grace slowly falls for the rhetoric of the ruling class, Zarcilla’s film gets rather messy in the last act. Characters make choices that never seem to quite gel with everything that proceeded it up to that point. Furthermore, as the twists and turns unfold, Raging Grace tries a little too hard to partially redeem one of its villainous characters.


Despite its muddled final act, Raging Grace is a pulsing domestic thriller that finds plenty of chills in the real-life horrors that many endure on a daily basis.

Raging Grace screens again at Fantasia on August 1 at 4:35 PM