★★★★ Directed by: Chad Archibald Starring: Aidan Devine, Ava Preston, Jess Salgueiro Grimmfest Film Festival Review by: Darren Tilby
William (Aidan Devine) is a simple man with a less than ordinary job: he ‘takes care’ of the corollary of inner-city gang violence — basically, he makes dead bodies disappear. This isn’t something he wants to do, but something he must do for the safety of his young daughter, Gloria (a stunning performance here from Ava Preston). But when one of the bodies turns out to be not quite so dead — everything changes.
Of all the films I’d had in mind as possibly being similar in tone, of all the sources of inspiration I thought this film may draw from, and of all the expectations I’d built up in my mind, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak hadn’t entered into any of them. And yet, perhaps strangely, it’s the gothic horror/romance genre, and Crimson Peak specifically, that I picked up on most.
It may seem like a strange comparison, but the two films have a lot in common: they both begin and end in a very similar fashion; they share a familiarity in their isolated rural setting beset by snow, interior gothic, aesthetic and both use their respective supernatural elements to support the plot rather than as its basis. And as with all good haunted house based horror films, the basement serves as the ghastly heart of the building: supernatural spectres emanate from the depths; escaping from the makeshift abattoir and spreading throughout the woodwork.
I'll Take Your Dead makes excellent use of its isolated location, and the farmhouse, standing tall in its seclusion, strikes an imposing silhouette against the dull light and snow covered fields; the quintessential haunted house.
The haunted house feel is also prevalent inside the farmhouse: the gothic interior, dimly lit rooms and dilapidated quality give the humble home an air of abandoned grandeur; it’s easy to forget the film takes place in an American farmhouse and not Eel Marsh or Hill House.
Jeff Maher’s cinematography in I’ll Take Your Dead is a marvel: it draws you in, brings you into its world; refusing to relent and finding beauty in the macabre and grotesque. The camera and soundtrack work together to create an atmosphere of eerie, uneasy peace; the calm before the storm. And whilst I never found the film ‘scary’, the dour ambience and slowly building narrative kept me on the edge of my seat.
The screenplay is well-written, and the pacing is, for the better part, spot-on; although the third act, whilst still gripping, did feel slightly rushed. It's also worth noting that nothing about the plot was greatly surprising, and I'd pretty much guessed how the film would end within 20 minutes of it starting: however, this in no way spoiled my enjoyment of what is an intelligent and beautifully made film.
The script and characters are wonderfully put together: the dialogue flows with a naturalistic flair and is full of lines of biting riposte, while character development occurs in a timely and natural manner; helped along by some stunning performances from its cast.
Aidan Devine and Jess Salgueiro – as William and Jackie respectively – give solid and down-to-earth performances as two people who, for varying reasons, are caught up in a situation neither of them belong in, whilst Ari Millen finds the perfect balance between the perversely creepy and borderline psychotic in Reggie, a vicious gang member and our primary antagonist.
The star of the show, however, has to be young Ava Preston as Gloria, who proves herself more than capable of not only handling a difficult role, but regularly stealing the spotlight in any scene she's in.
I'll Take Your Dead is an exciting and visceral experience, as well as being an interesting and surprisingly tender exploration of a father-daughter relationship that has seen better days, while the gothic-horror elements add a whole new level to a genre of film which isn't short on representation.