Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach’s We Still Say Grace is a tremendously effective thriller that does everything possibly right. This is a slow-burner that reels you in with some great performances from Bruce Davison and Holly Taylor. Without a doubt, this is a must-watch film that deserves to find as wide an audience as possible.
Harold (Bruce Davison), a god-fearing family man who lives with his down-trodden wife and teenage daughters in a remote farmhouse, as far away as possible from the sin-filled world and civilisation, where he rules his household with a brutal iron fist. The older she gets, the more daughter Maggie (Holly Taylor) begins to question her father’s rules and rituals and is desperate to live a normal life. When three young men break down near the house from two flat tyres, they find the farmhouse is the only one around to help them, but are Harold’s intentions as pure as they hope?
We Still Say Grace doesn’t set the bar overly high with its premise, one that we may have seen countless times before. Still, sometimes the simplest of premises, when executed very well throughout the board, we find ourselves a gem, and with Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach’s film, we have certainly found one here.
From the opening onwards, we know that Harold has firmly lost the plot with his religious leaning. This opening has us alert from the get-go and gives us the chance to see the family dynamic before the chaos begins. With Betty (Arianne Zucker) being cautious but loyal to Harold and Sarah (Rita Volk) being all-in on Harold’s methodology of teachings, we get the basics easily and effectively. On the other hand, Maggie is getting further and further removed from her family’s values, which only becomes heightened upon the group’s arrival as her family put her leanings towards having lustful thoughts towards them.
As we know from the start that Harold is not around for overly long, we fear immediately for the three young men who come for help. Once they start acting beyond the sensibilities of Harold’s rules, well, let’s just say we know the longer they stay at the farmhouse, the worse it is going to be for them. Harold doesn’t look at all try to fool these men into a false sense of security by acting nice like you would expect.
There is no time for that, and it is welcome to see a character who doesn’t want to pretend to be nice. He is who he is and believes what he believes, so when they curse in his home or he sees beer in their car, he chastises them. The boys should have taken these warning signs immediately and just walked the 30 miles, but once they are stuck at the farm, their world will never be the same.
The slow burn nature of We Still Say Grace really allows the tension to mount up as we know Harold is going to do something to these guys, but we just don’t know when. As the knife begins to twist and the aggression and desperation start to grow, we need the boys and Maggie to escape. Despite the film slightly flagging in the middle (you can’t help thinking more should have been done with one of the male characters), the final act brings us firmly back into the fold.
Bruce Davison’s performance is one that ably toes the line between menacing and a polite religious zealot. He resolutely believes in the Lord, and nothing will change that thought, even when he tries to reason with not only his family but himself about the things he has done. It has all been for a purpose, and the fact that his daughters are getting older, he realises he cannot keep them at the farm as easy. This is especially so with Maggie as she has fought back against his teachings; with Sarah, he has his claws in her already and can sway her with ease. While we never feel that Davison can take on all of these men, he can wisely separate them and makes sure to almost pit them against each other to take advantage.
Thanks to the intelligent writing from Helmink and Rauschelbach, Harold comes across as more realistic than other villains we have seen in films akin to this. He is a man on borrowed time and knows it, so when he tries to persuade a character to stay with the family, he keenly wants to carry on this world he has created, but age is not on his side anymore. This subdued nature works so well and soon becomes the perfect foil for Holly Taylor’s Maggie.
Taylor is powerful here as she can bounce off all of the cast very well, and her violent coming-of-age storey resonates with her sympathetic character. Taylor can bring a sensitive touch to her character, who slowly becomes more and more confident with not only herself but her beliefs. So when we get to the finale, we believe that she can do what she does; it isn’t just pulled out of a hat and forcing the audience to suspend belief.
Her character (and the entire cast to be fair) give us as fresh a look as you can possibly have with a film like this. Everyone seems fleshed out, and whether you dislike them or not, you feel something towards them; they are not just cookie-cutter characters, and it is a credit to the writing duo that they all work so well.
Mel Elias also makes sure that the atmosphere is kept and, in fact, enhanced with his score. The sense of dread never leaves you, and that is thanks to Elias. When a score just creeps up on you and can stay under your skin, it makes the entire piece so much more effective. Excellent work here, and in truth, it is excellent work all around. From Jeffrey Chaney’s creepily bare sets and Jill Paz’s Little House on the Prairie costumes for the family, everything is done very well. It truly helps to elevate the audiences viewing experience.
We Still Say Grace falters slightly because it focuses a little bit too much on the boys’ troubles and not enough on Maggie. She is obviously the key to the film that instead of staying on the psychological, religious thriller piece, we move towards a bit of horror and isn’t needed. For as strong as the writing and the direction is from our duo, they lack a little bit of confidence to carry out what they seemingly intended with. By having a more focused sub-plot, we lose a little of the most compelling aspect of the movie.
Dismiss We Still Say Grace at your peril; if you ignore it, then you are missing out on a very effective flick that takes a well-worn sub-genre and can make it its own wonderful thing. A filmmaking duo has full confidence in their script (easy to tell when a filmmaker is sure of what they have written and how that projects onto the screen). They allow their cast to work tremendously well off each other, and with a gripping tale, you are leaning in to see where the film goes. Yes, there are a couple of bumps and plot holes, but you forgive them due to seeing how much effort and success there is elsewhere. We Still Say Grace is a film that you have to watch.
We Still Say Grace is available now digitally via 101 films.
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