A blast of luridness, equal parts unnerving and irritating, Savage Grace gets a lot of mileage out of a typically fearless performance from Julianne Moore. She plays notorious socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland, who in 1972 was brutally murdered by her own son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne). It wasn't simply the murder that sent the tabloids into a tizzy at the time; Barbara, in an attempt to "cure" her son of being gay, had been bedding the boy for years, leaving Tony a sexually confused basket case. Ugh.
Such a potential sleazefest calls for a subtle hand, and early on at least director Tom Kalin proves up to the task. The Baekelands—Barbara, Tony, and willfully distant patriarch Brooks (Stephen Dillane)—had money to spare and little to do with it, and Savage Grace is at its best bobbing in and out of the social circles of New York, Paris, and London. At home with the Baekelands, however, the film begins to trip up. Much of this has to do with the brood being supremely unlikable; the vapid existence of the spoiled set, especially a pack as narcissistic and unpleasant as this one, makes it hard to care about the characters. As it turns out, no amount of lover swapping and incestuous three-ways (again: ugh) can make vacant, uninteresting people interesting.