Cults have always been trendy in the realm of horror, whether they're religious or formed around a charismatic leader. Or even on a smaller scale, sometimes the cult can just be a family unit, run by what is often a sadistic and/or controlling head of the family. We Still Say Grace focuses on one such family, led by Harold (Bruce Davison), who at the beginning of the film are preparing to commit suicide together.
Maggie (Holly Taylor) is the teenage daughter of Harold and Betty (Arianne Zucker). Maggie's sister Sarah (Rita Volk) is much more accepting of Harold's religious fanaticism, but Maggie is more frightened and unsure of the family's values and morals. The arrival of three strangers (Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, Xavier J. Watson) threatens the family's suicide pact, but might provide Maggie a chance to escape.
Written and directed by Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach, We Still Say Grace is a confident, if slow-burning descent into desperation and terror. It might be a little too slow for most, but the ending makes up for slightly sluggish pacing in the middle. We Still Say Grace strikes a fascinating balance between cruelty and shocking by just the sheer sense of oppression.
Much of the film's successes are down to Taylor and Davison. Taylor often resembles a deer in headlights and the intense opening sequence shows off the actress' commitment. Davison is equally charismatic and menacing, even if the script and his character never quite goes far enough. Harold, while a perfectly capable villain in such a story, feels like a safe character. We know he's evil because of what he does, but the character lacks proper shock value and Davison's performance at times feels held back.
Hart, Wolf and Watson, playing the unlucky boys on a boozy trip who knock on the wrong door, are all fine, but as expected, the characters feel expendable. There is a sweet, romantic undercurrent between Taylor and Hart's characters, but it's never properly evolved, and it is exactly this that makes We Still Say Grace miss the mark.
Clearly, the film was intended as a horrific coming-of-age tale, with a side portion of religious fanaticism, from Maggie's point of view. Unfortunately Helmink and Rauschelbach's script strangely focuses on the boys' perspective for long periods of time. We Still Say Grace begins as Maggie's story, her finding her own freedom and sticking up for herself, but the narrative is disrupted when Helmink and Rauschelbach focus on the boys finding out just how creepy and terrifying their news hosts are when they're forced to stay the night.
Helmink and Rauschelbach's script is often clunky in terms of its dialogue as well as how events unfold. Everything happens easily and conveniently, nothing here is particularly surprising and We Still Say Grace certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to horror stories like this. To their credit, Helmink and Rauschelbach do manage to create an oppressing and intense mood that carries throughout their film.
While We Still Say Grace never quite manages to break free of its sub-genre's restraints and it includes some dodgy CGI, it's still a tense and exciting addition to the genre. Helmink and Rauschelbach conjure several brutal and shocking images, but overall the film doesn't leave as big of an impression as it should.
We Still Say Grace is out on digital platforms on May 3 .