The taut, original, and unpretentious Canadian thriller I’ll Take Your Dead is a no frills sort of production that boasts a wonderful idea, some appropriately nasty and gory flourishes, and an exemplary cast. It’s pretty unassuming at a quick glance, but a lot smarter and craftier than one might expect from low budget Canadian genre cinema. Even when it stumbles slightly during the film’s climax, I’ll Take Your Dead remains remarkably engaging, entertaining, and even kind of brainy. It’s the kind of production that knows its limitations, so everything has been stripped down to include only the bits that work the best. It’s not all grade-A killer, but there definitely isn’t any filler.
William (Aidan Devine) is a widower, father, and farm owner who has fallen on hard times and into an impossible, seemingly inescapable situation. The unassuming and not particularly imposing William is known in criminal circles as “The Candy Butcher,” a fixer who takes the bodies of gang related murder victims and makes them disappear. The job is starting to get to him, and he especially worries what his young and increasingly distant daughter, Gloria (Ava Preston), is learning from their shared experiences. One snowy afternoon, a gangbanger psychopath (Ari Millen) drops off three new bodies for The Butcher. William is already annoyed that one of the victims is a kid – something in his own code of ethics he refuses to take care of – but he’s in a bigger spot of bother when it turns out that the female victim of the bunch, Jackie (Jess Salgueiro), isn’t actually dead. Not wanting to commit an actual murder and wanting to protect both Jackie and Gloria from people who won’t take too kindly to this revelation, William ties the young woman up and cares for her wounds while trying to figure out his next move and get out of the criminal life for good.
I’ll Take Your Dead is a simple, original story well told and executed by director Chad Archibald (The Heretics, The Drownsman) and screenwriter Jayme Laforest. The set-up doesn’t take very long to hash out. The ensuing period where the viewer gets to know more about William, Gloria (who can see the ghosts of the dead people who’ve passed across her father’s dismemberment table), and Jackie is engaging, thoughtful, and never drags, and when Archibald has to kick things into high gear for the film’s second half, it mostly works wonders. It also never lapses into unnecessarily exploitative territory. There’s an understanding that the situation is terrible enough on its own for all parties involved, and Archibald never underlines that more than absolutely necessary.
There’s a clockwork efficiency to Archibald’s work here that most cheapie thrillers don’t bother attempting. It’s masterfully paced, smartly written (including some healthy commentary on the lengths people will go to sustain their livelihoods, both through William and Jackie), and it looks gorgeous, with some particularly nifty use of symmetrical framing throughout. Even the requisite limb sawing, jump scares, shootouts, and sounds of bloody garments pulling away from open wounds are delivered with more style and grace than the genre is usually accustomed to. It’s efficient, but also technically polished; a genre film clearly made with a lot of love and care to make the nastier beats and scares hit a bit harder than those found in most indie thrillers. It cares about these characters, and it cares just as much for the audience experience. It takes viewers to the edge of depravity and their own moral compass without rubbing their noses in gangrenous wounds. I’ll Take Your Dead knows that it’s core audience is smarter than the stuff they’re normally given credit for being, and it’s a refreshing change of pace.
I’ll Take Your Dead also benefits from a top notch cast, with newcomer Preston stealing the show with an uncannily sympathetic and creepy turn as William’s obviously disturbed, but not irredeemable daughter. Devine lends a considerable amount of gravitas as the conflicted farmer, Salgueiro plays nicely with audience expectations as the scared woman in a terrible situation, and Millen is gleefully unhinged and menacing as the primary antagonist. They sell the material properly, turning I’ll Take Your Dead into the rare sort of low budget thriller where there isn’t a bad or flawed performance to be found. They clearly believe in the material and their characters, furthering adding to the film’s overall confidence and execution.
What doesn’t work as well about I’ll Take Your Dead is the film’s supernatural element, which largely takes over the climactic battle between the heroes and the gang members. It doesn’t so much ease its way to the forefront of the story as much as it explodes rather suddenly. I would say that it doesn’t work and the transition is a bit jarring, but at least Archibald and Laforest have somewhat telegraphed that such a turn towards the otherworldly was on the horizon. It’s not as effective as it might be if I’ll Take Your Dead tried to play things straight (and it certainly adds some decent, if unnecessary jump scares and make-up effects), but it never causes the film or story to fall apart around it.
I’ll Take Your Dead is a satisfyingly bloody sort of popcorn movie thriller that succeeds at almost everything it attempts. While it almost goes off the rails down the stretch, Archibald knows precisely what’s needed to make the film a success, refusing to fall into the cheap or convoluted pitfalls and traps other indie genre filmmakers tend to stumble over. If you’re in the mood for a tense little thriller that won’t waste your time, I’ll Take Your Dead will scratch that itch nicely.
I’ll Take Your Dead opens at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto (with cast and crew at select screenings), Globe Cinema in Calgary, and Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa on Friday, July 5, 2019. It also screens at Playhouse Cinema in Hamilton on Sunday, July 7 at 9:00pm.
Check out the trailer for I’ll Take Your Dead:
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