A family living in deliberate solitude looks to God to provide them with everything they need to sustain. Harold’s two teenage daughters have never experienced beyond the 14 acres of land their father and mother own, but the youngest, Maggie, can’t help but think of the wonders outside her father’s god-fearing, draconian sheltering. When three teenage boys travelling to California suddenly break down on Harold’s remote land, an eager Maggie can’t wait to taste a mere glimpse of their perception of the outside world. Being a good Christian man, Harold welcomes the hapless travelers into his home and convinces them to follow the rules and stay the night, but the boys’ seemingly happenstance car troubles is manipulated into an unavoidable sign of God’s will, or at least so in Harold’s eyes, and he decides to carry out a predetermined family suicide pact for him and his family to be welcomed into the gates of Heaven.
The one think learned, or maybe had shed more light on, out of this pandemic is the unstable relationship people have with God. Religious extremist have weaponized the Powerful and Almighty against every day people like you and myself with contentious, hate-filled vocabulary such as damnation, burning, hell, etc., for those who do not seek his glory the way asininely seek it. “We Still Say Grace” epitomizes that very lifestyle of devout fanaticism that has also been highlighted with buffoonery as the very same people who verbally condemn others usually don’t walk-the-walk but only talk-the-talk or are a charlatan involved in a more sinister plan. “The Lodge’s” Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach write and direct the film that has become their second feature horror film produced by the filmmakers under their Brothers Shamus Pictures, Mark Sonoda of Dauntless Studios, Room in the Sky Films, and Lexicon Entertainment.
Now, I’m not a religious man or spread the word of the divine in my reviews, but God love Bruce Davison as the “Dahmer” and “X-Men” actor is a silver fox crazy man of God living rurally with his wife and two teenage daughters. Davison relentlessly rallies Harold’s madness and is having a good old time performing as a man with a hidden agenda. Harold is an intriguing character with little-to-no information about the character’s background or reasoning for being unreasonable, but that doesn’t seem to faze the legendary actor who had cut his teeth into horror 50 years ago as the original rat-speaking avenger, “Willard,” as Davion trots down a path of deceitful radicalism and manipulative exploitation. Those he unscrupulously cons with pious smoke and mirrors are his own family in wife Betty (Arianne Zucker, “Days of Our Lives” daytime soap opera), Sarah (Rita Volk), and Maggie (Holly Taylor, FX’s “The Americans”). As a viewer who is currently, at this very moment, chin deep in catching up on FX’s Cold War espionage thriller series of Soviet spies living as ordinary Americans in Washington, D.C. as they carry out missions in the name of Communism, I found difficult in separating Holly Taylor from her the 2018 series that ended its successful run in 2018 when she was a teenager. Taylor’s roll in “We Still Say Grace” typecast the actress as another teen though having filmed the movie as a young adult woman, but the lighting is different and I don’t mean in a literal illuminating sense. Taylor steps out from “The Americans’” 80’s setting and into, what I presume, is the 1990’s based off some wardrobe choices, car models, and the time frames that fit into those constructs and while she still has this inkling of suspicion that her parents are up to something, a parallel that has carried over, there hasn’t been this much ill-fitting reverence of a man hellbent on belting those he breaks bread with on a daily basis. There is hesitancy and fear in Taylor eyes and that’s breaks up her from a reoccurring teenager role. When the three teens (Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, and Xavier J. Watson) show up at the front door, that’s when things go, more than usual for Maggie, terribly awry.
Aside from Bruce Davison, the other performances muster little faith in their roles with overplayed tropes, especially the stranded teens who could be plucked out as the Three Stooges of horror they’re so easily identifiable across the genre. The premise itself isn’t exactly novel of a Bible thumping person teaching and preaching self-sacrifice, aka suicide, as a way to transcend beyond the heathens of this Earth but marketable and attainable as a small independent production with a California desert location, minor but effective special effects, and a handful of actors where much of the money is spent on talent. “We Still Say Grace” is structurally very loose with character development and plot points, leaking continues dribbles of minor shifts that never patch themselves up on the backend. For example, Harold’s not the black and white evangelical nut he seems to be but that is where his arc pauses and doesn’t backtrack into reasoning. Helmink and Rauschelbach do better on the scene setups and interiors that make Harold uncomfortably fearsome and hostile in any context as he sometimes looms in the shadows of his farm chic house or toys with people, even his own family, like rats in a maze as he guides them along to their doom.
Premiering for the first time in the UK courtesy of 101 Films, “We Still Say Grace’s” penitent themed horror-thriller releases digitally this month of May. As for the imagery presentation, and take this with a grain of salt with any digitally released film, the nearly 94 minute runtime seems to be filmed with a sun derived dust and light haze that I would compare the appearance more akin to trying to look through the bottom of a hard water stained glass. Under the cinematography of Douglas Quill, the haziness plays into the rustic and dusty atmospherics that give age to the story and Quill frames Harold as a dominant and isolated figure, especially amongst the holy trinity ablaze in human flesh, as if he was the sole antagonist against the world. The moment for shattered lives remains intent on the very edge of our corneas with the holy hell of “We Still Say Grace’s” patience brittle villain ready to gaslight and sacrifice anyone resisting against the grain of God’s good graces.