With the release of their newest film, I’ll Take Your Dead, director Chad Archibald (Bite, The Heretics) and Black Fawn Films have delivered their strongest work to date. The film mixes elements of a suspense thriller, tragic ghost story, intense home invasion, and coming-of-age drama into an emotional journey for both the characters and the audience. It’s a genre stew that’s flavored with bitter tension and complex warmth – a combination that is perfectly suited to the harsh rural winter setting.
From a script written by Jayme Laforest, the film follows William (Aidan Devine), a humble and quiet man with a simple job – he makes dead bodies disappear. This is not a job he takes pride in, but, through circumstances out of his control, his country farm house has become a dumping ground for the casualties of the gang related murders in the city. His daughter Gloria (Ava Preston) has become used to men dropping off corpses and is even convinced that some of them are haunting their house. After a woman’s body is dumped at the house, William begins his meticulous process when he realizes she’s not actually dead. As the gang activity increases, William patches the woman up and holds her against her will until he can figure out what to do with her. As they begin to develop a very unusual respect for each other, the woman’s murderers get word that she’s still alive and make plan to go finish what they started.
I’ll Take Your Dead is undeniably a character-driven film. The main action is not surrounding the disposal of bodies or the lost souls that haunt Gloria – it’s the shifts and balances between our three leads.
Jess Salgueiro as Jackie skillfully flips between the roles of panicked captive, wary heroine, and caring surrogate sister. The scenes between Salgueiro and Ava Preston as Gloria are rich with nuance; the audience can gain volumes of information from their physical movements and subtle reactions to one another.
Aidan Devine carries a stillness that William wields as a shield when acting as his efficient alter-ego. Where Devine really shines is the moments when William is caught off-guard; he slips the stony exterior and we see flashes of the worry and anger that he’s trying to hide. One particular scene – in which William mistakes puberty for injury – carries an avalanche of embarrassment and it’s incredibly endearing. As a single father who intentionally isolates his daughter for her safety, William finally recognizes that he’s far out of his depth.
Admittedly, I did find that the father-daughter bond was plagued by a repetitive, heavy-handed gesture for the sake of emotional connection. It’s meant to communicate the link between the two, but in the film’s 78-minute run time, we see this hand gesture a few times – and with increased frequency – in the third act.
It reads as a rushed attempt to remind the audience of their strong father-daughter relationship, trying to build emotional resonance, and it’s not really necessary. It’s a point that doesn’t need stressing – the actors do a wonderful job of expressing that connection on their own (or maybe it just reminded me too much of the “face waterfall” from Face/Off).
The ghost elements also feel a tad rushed, but with the brisk run time, that would be the logical place to trim the fat for a more robust development in the main plot.
Overall, I’ll Take Your Dead is strongest when it focuses on the themes of family, loss, and the cycle of violence. Everyone in the film is stuck in a lifestyle surrounded by violence – to the point that young Gloria has completely normalized the death that lives around her.
Every character just scrapes by, fighting to get closer to that dream of a better life. But the isolation that can be found in such a crowded lifestyle is so oppressive that any resistance seems futile, and sometimes, good people are pushed to bad things. I’ll Take Your Dead recognizes that family is more than just blood, and the family you surround yourself with will help to inform your future.
For more on I’ll Take Your Dead, click here to read my interview with the cast at Toronto After Dark Film Fest, and click here to view the first official trailer. The film is currently on the festival circuit, so keep your eye out for screenings near you.
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