How Grace director plumbed his own disturbing past

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

When a male writer-director comes up with a story about a woman who carries a dead baby to term—as Paul Solet did in the upcoming horror drama Grace—it's probably safe to assume he either has an extremely fertile imagination or has endured a particularly bad experience with a girlfriend.

But Solet said that he got the original idea from a much more personal experience. "The whole thing started when I was 19 years old and my mom told me I had a twin that didn't make it," Solet said in a group interview earlier this week in Los Angeles. "So the material became compelling on a cellular level for me. [But] the actual creative genesis of the story came four years later, when I was having a conversation with someone where it came up that it's actual medical science that if you are pregnant and you lose your child and labor isn't induced, you can carry your baby to term." (Spoilers ahead!)

Grace follows a young woman named Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) who literally wills her child back to life when it dies during pregnancy, then continues to feed it with blood after it's born mostly, well, dead.

Solet said that the combination of the personal and the profoundly disturbing made for an irresistible story concept. "As a genre fan, first and foremost, I'm always looking to get shaken up, and it's tough," he said. "Not a lot of subjects, not a lot of films, actually get under my skin, and even as a man, this really did get to me. So it was just a very clear jumping-off point for the film."

The feature-length Grace appears to follow Solet's short of the same name, but the writer-director said that the order was actually the other way around. "Basically, the short came after the feature," he said. "I wrote the feature coming across the country when I moved from Boston about five years ago. People liked it, and I got offers to option it, but it's a much more difficult task to get them to give you a million bucks to make a movie. I took meetings with these directors, and I heard what they had to say, and I listened to their ideas, but they just didn't get it. They were not genre guys, and they didn't understand the potential; non-genre guys don't understand what the potential is if you take an otherwise mundane idea and blow it open."

Solet said that the other filmmakers he met had more grandiose and therefore less specific ideas as to how to make Grace as much a character study as a shocking movie. "These guys think, like, 'Oh, it's a checklist: Do I have my t-ts? Do I have my blood? Do I have my jump scares?' You know what I mean? It's like, 'You just don't get it.' I would get guys that would wink at me [and say], 'What do you think about this? ... What if we added a Satan-worshipper subplot, like the car goes off of the road and goes down into a ditch, and then there's a ceremony happening?'"

Solet added: "I really needed the money, but I really do believe in story, and if you have a story you believe in, it's your number-one allegiance, ... to see that it's brought to fruition to its maximum potential. So we put a good cast together, we put a good crew together, we raised enough money together to shoot on 35mm, I distilled the key beats of the first act of the feature into a five-minute pitch, and that's how the short happened."

While Solet obviously committed himself to the integrity of his idea, he acknowledged it wouldn't have worked without a terrific actress to bring to life the relationship between mother and child. He found that actress in Jordan Ladd, who understood what was at the heart of the film.

"One of the first things that we talked about that really clinched it for me was that she had an empathetic quality that this character really needed," Solet said of Ladd. "This character is making some decisions that you cannot dismiss this character as a kook or being weird, and you need someone like Jordan to deliver that sort of empathy."

Solet said that the two of them worked together to find a relatable feeling that would augment their own ideas about the nature of this maternal bond. "We talked about this idea [that] even beneath the uncanny power of the bond between mother and child is this sort of deeper core of wanting something that you cannot have," he revealed. "That defies gender; that transcends everything, and that was something that Jordan and I both, as much as we would probably not like to have to identify with that s--t, that's a basic human thing, and that was sort of how we both plugged right in to it."

Grace opens today.