If life were fair, hard work and perseverance would be justly remunerated and Joy would be, if not wealthy, at least secure; an undocumented Filipina immigrant working as a cleaner in London, she is a single mother taking care of her daughter Grace and staying illicitly in the homes of former employers when they are on holiday, trying to save enough money to get a place of their own and to buy black market residency documents.
Random chance places her apparently in the right place at the right time, as live-in housekeeper for an elderly gentleman, terminally ill and bedridden, with her own room in the mansion of Nigel Garrett and paid cash in hand by his niece Katherine, a woman who is accustomed to dealing firmly with the help and has no problem detailing Joy’s duties, how they will be performed and how she is expected to conduct herself, something Joy can accept if not enjoy, but hers is not the only façade which must be maintained.
Written and directed by Paris Zarcilla and screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Raging Grace shifts through domestic drama to thriller to horror as Joy (Max Eigenmann) tries to maintain balance and keep one step ahead on shifting sands, her life barely controlled chaos, while Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla, brilliantly assured and wilful in her screen debut) sees the whole thing as an adventure, making trouble just because she can, an intelligent child with nothing to occupy her mind and forced to stay hidden during daylight hours.
Katherine (Leanne Best) reinforcing the hierarchy at every opportunity and belittling any gesture of empathy, demanding a simple cheese sandwich – “now, please” – over Joy’s unwanted “exotic” cooking, the only person who makes no requests is unconscious Uncle Nigel (David Hayman), but expecting total obedience without question Katherine does not realise that her cleaner is in fact a qualified nurse whose oath and conscience requires her to verify the safety of the daily cocktail of pills which keep him sedate.
Joy a woman with no position, no resources and no rights but with a child who is dependent on her, she is at the mercy of those who do hold power, a microcosm of the immigrant experience in a hostile environment, open to exploitation and violence with no recourse or legal protection, a woman who does not exist in the eyes of the law and stands to lose everything if she speaks out for herself another who has been wronged.
While the obvious parallel is Parasite it soon takes a very different path, Joy perhaps having entered the house without full disclosure but with no agenda or scheme other than to survive, genuinely striving to do her best in trying circumstances as the square frame becomes a prison from which she cannot escape, Raging Grace taking place in house of secrets where control is maintained through manipulation and lies, the class divide of Upstairs, Downstairs played out with the unforgiving venom of the Borgias rather than the genteel Bellamys.