I’ll Take Your Dead is the latest film from Black Fawn Films, and it’s their strongest yet. Part suspense thriller, part ghost story, with elements of a home invasion horror and coming-of-age drama, the film has a lot of heart communicated through the complexity of its relationships.
Directed by Chad Archibald and written by Jayme Laforest, the film follows William (Aidan Devine) who has a simple job, he makes dead bodies disappear. This isn’t something he likes to or even wants to do, but through circumstances out of his control, his little farm house in the country has become a dumping ground for the casualties of the gang related murders in the nearby city. His daughter Gloria (Ava Preston) has become used to rough looking 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 had the chance to sit down with the film’s cast at Toronto After Dark Film Festival to discuss I’ll Take Your Dead, ghost stories, and the challenges of a rural Canadian winter.
Kelly McNeely: I’ll Take Your Dead is a bit of a blend of a couple of different ideas and genres. How would you describe it?
Aidan Devine: I would say it is a suspense-thriller, with elements of horror. So it’s not your typical genre horror movie, though there are a lot of elements of that genre in the film. But that’s not the main thrust of the narrative.
Kelly: What drew each of you to this project and these characters?
Jess Salgueiro: I really loved this character. I really loved Jackie – I loved that she’s this kind of hard-knock chick from the streets, and then she’s in a position where she’s in such a foreign space – that farmhouse in an old-timey dress… I loved how removed she was from where you would classically see a character like this. I thought that was really interesting. And I really loved the relationship that was written in between Jackie and Gloria. I thought there were some badass feminist undertones to it.
Ava Preston: Pretty much the same. I love Gloria as a character. I think she’s pretty awesome, I don’t think she’s the same as your stereotypical 13 year-old girl… she’s pretty fearless. She’s pretty different. I don’t think your typical 13 year-old girl is just gonna carry around a baseball bat, you know? [laughs] But I think she’s pretty awesome and I’m really proud of her as a character.
Kelly: Yeah, she’s just grown up in this really bizarre environment, seeing these bodies come in.
Ava: Yes! Exactly. It’s almost like it’s the norm, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
Kelly: She’s adapted to this very weird situation.
Ava: Very, yes [laughs].
Aidan: I liked it because – with my character – you’re not sure if he’s a bad guy, or if he’s a good guy. Is he part of the horror aspect of this thing, or is he a hero type character? You don’t know. I always like playing characters where there are two or three things at play there, and they’re battling each other. It’s one of my favorite things to do as an actor. So it was a definite yes for me as soon as I saw the script.
Kelly: This rural icy location, being out in Orillia (Ontario) in the middle of winter… how was that filming experience?
Aidan: That sucked. [all laugh]
Ava: Actually, I loved it. And I think it was because I just loved being there. Every morning I’d wake up thinking “yes! I get to go to set today!”. It was like, the more hours, the better. Which is a different look at it actually – I enjoyed it a lot. Even though it was a little chilly at times [laughs] it was still a lot of fun.
Jess: It sort of – in a weird way – helped inform certain aspects of the script in terms of the urgency of getting certain things done. Like the action sequences, for example. The fact that my character was out in her socks in the snow actually… physically, the actress is like “oh shit, we need to figure this out”. So in some regards, the environment can help.
Kelly: That sense of urgency is there.
Jess: Yeah! But it was cold. I was that person that as soon as they called cut, I was like “turn on the heat, turn on the heat!”
Aidan: Yeah it was pretty bad for you guys – you guys were both in dresses. You had those pretty frocks. I always had the same outfit on and I was freezing! And I had a jacket on, I had pants on, I had long johns on, I had construction boots on…
Kelly: You had layers!
Aidan: I kept trying to put my hat on and I made the mistake a couple of times because I left my hat on during shooting. They said “ok cut, moving on”, and I said “wait a second… I think I was wearing my hat…” [all laugh] And it’s like -35 (Celsius), all of us are out there, and they were like “…yeah… you were wearing your hat… let’s do it again” [all laugh]. Sorry guys.
But I was fully dressed for the entire film, which is usual for me. That’s normally the kind of acting that I do. So I felt bad for these guys. I mean, I say it sucked, it did suck, it was cold! I don’t know what you guys are talking about. It was -40, man. With the wind. And you know, we were shooting in that for like a week. The house was drafty, it was heated by a stove – one wood stove.
Kelly: I was going to ask about the house!
Ava: We would have, like, a heat snake. And then between takes everyone would huddle around it. But they didn’t want to make it seem like that, but they would all just kind of [mimes an inconspicuous huddle].
Kelly: It was like a kind of team building.
Jess: It was, actually. Huddle around the fire, telling stories. [laughs]
Ava: At some points the power would go off, and everyone would be sitting there and we’d just look at each other like [resigned] “it’s off again”. We’d have to call “(Director) Chad! The power’s off!”
Jess: It’s almost like the house was constructed for this exact shoot. Every day I’d have to remind myself, this actually was a house that existed and they found it. It was so perfect. It was unkempt, but there were certain rooms where I would say “wow, the art department has done such a great job with this room” and they were like “no, it was just like this”. [all laugh]
Aidan: “They haven’t gotten to this room yet!”
Jess: [laughs] Yeah, yeah!
Ava: Like, am I filming the horror movie, or am I in the horror movie. [all laugh]
Jess: [to Ava] Remember that freaky thing that happened?
Ava: There was – on a video, in one of the rooms that we barely ever shot in, like we never shot in this one specific room in the house that was upstairs, right across from Gloria’s bedroom. I think that there was some kind of video? But there was a piece of paper perfectly inside this envelope, but it… [to Jess] didn’t it tilt?
Jess: It tilted, and then it literally flew out from whatever pocket it was in…
Ava: During a take.
Jess: It was in a drawer or… I can’t remember exactly, it was stuffed in a folder on a wall?
Ava: But there was no fan or anything.
Jess: And it just, like –
Aidan: It jumped out
Jess: And during a take it went – boop! [mimes something flying out]. And we were all like [all laugh]… something’s going on.
Ava: [jokingly] This has been fun, but I’m gonna go back… [all laugh]
Aidan: Don’t leave me in this room alone.
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