The King Tide Review | Many Thanks

by Andrew Parker

The King Tide is a folk horror movie that isn’t particularly scary, but it more than makes up for its lack of shock value by being resoundingly thoughtful and uniquely philosophical. If that sounds like a bit of a drag by genre movie standards, it’s not. The King Tide is a refreshing change of pace that hearkens back to cinema of the 1970s and early 80s, where these types of restrained, creepy, human driven horrors were a lot more prevalent. Those expecting a thriller won’t be on the edge of their seats very much, but anyone willing to take a chance on a well made, fantastically minded ensemble character drama will be taken aback by the depth of The King Tide.

Following a major storm on a secluded fishing island somewhere in the North Atlantic, the community’s mayor, Bobby (Clayne Crawford), rescues a baby that has been somehow trapped in an overturned rowboat that’s washed ashore. Bobby and his wife, Charlotte (Lara Jean Chorostecki), take the child in as their own and name her Isla. It’s immediately apparent that the baby has magical healing powers for anyone injured that happens to be in her presence, and she becomes a boon to their fishing industry, making the child revered on the island. Ten years later, the islanders have completely cut themselves off from any connections to the mainland to keep their miracle a secret, and people line up every day to get minor ailments like cuts and hangovers cured by ten-year-old Isla (Alix West Lefler). But around this time, the town’s residents begin asking too much of the child, a series of tragic mishaps put doubts into the minds of some of the townsfolk, and Isla starts wondering if there’s a bigger world outside the island that she’s never seen.

Director Christian Sparkes (who also has the upcoming drama Sweetland coming out on the not too distant horizon) plays up the gloomy island atmosphere early, both in terms of subject matter and through the use of low-light cinematography. There’s a great, but subtle visual trope throughout The King Tide where things look sunnier when Isla is doing well and cloudy when things are bad or uncertain, a nice stroke of colour grading that works in the story’s favour. The action is paced not like a traditional thriller, but something a bit more like a stage play, albeit without every visually appearing as static or confined. The King Tide also makes great use of the natural beauty of the Canadian Maritimes to make the island seem both homely and inhospitable to outsiders, which couples nicely with production design touches designed to make the islanders’ “back to basics” life choices vibrantly pop and seem believable to contemporary viewers.

The script from the unlikely duo of Albert Shin (a masterful filmmaker responsible for films like In Her Place and Disappearance at Clifton Hill) and William Woods (getting his first writing credit after working as a producer on memorable and boundary pushing Canadian productions like The Kid Detective, Sparkes’ Hammer, and The Rest of Us) is pitched more as a classical cautionary tale than a spooky chiller. The King Tide is a parable about people who take a miracle for granted and start to feel entitled rather than truly grateful. After each of their daily healing sessions with Isla, islanders are instructed to thank the child and give her preferential treatment, but it’s all lip service designed to keep her from asking too many questions. When Isla’s powers begin to wax and wane without much explanation, the town is divided into two camps: those who want to give the kid a much needed break – led by the former town doctor turned local drunk (Aden Young) – and those who feel they can’t live without her, led by the mayor’s formerly senile mother-in-law (Frances Fisher). The King Tide looks at what happens when gratitude shifts to greed, and the consequences of such actions.

The steps towards a final confrontation make up about 85% of The King Tide, and really only the climax dips into conventional thriller territory. But Sparkes and his cast – particularly Crawford, Fisher, Young, and young Lefler – keep things smart and engaging. It’s more classical horror than modern horror, but the themes at play in The King Tide have a timely relevancy to them in an age where isolationism and the hoarding of natural resources are becoming bigger concerns. In terms of how the story resolves itself, The King Tide more or less turns out the way I expect it to from the start. But the movie as a whole is unexpectedly thoughtful in a wonderful way.

The King Tide opens in select Canadian theatres on Friday, April 27, 2024.

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