Chad Archibald’s I’ll Take Your Dead is, at its core, a story about a father and daughter that hold their relationship together in an environment beset by horror, crime, and horrific crime. It introduces a bunch of compelling ideas that may not always fit together neatly, but overall it is an unexpectedly sweet little yarn with some really great performances.
William lives on a farm with his daughter, Gloria. He tends horses and presumably does other farm stuff, but his main business is making bodies disappear, like a chop shop for dead folks. On the streets, he’s known as The Candy Butcher. It’s a quiet operation for a quiet, thoughtful, oppressed man that despises what he does, but is forced to do it by the criminal elements in the nearby city that keep him under their thumb.
William is visited by nasty guy Reggie (you can tell he’s nasty from the face tattoo), played by a scenery-chewing Ari Millen of Orphan Black fame. Millen’s Reggie comes off as the main villain of the film and is much more interesting as a character, even though his buddy Carter (Brandon McKnight, also sporting a face tattoo) is technically the ‘big bad’.
Anyway, Reggie drops off a couple of bodies for The Butcher to handle, but it turns out that one of them, a woman named Jackie (Jess Salgueiro) who’s involved with Carter, is not quite dead at all. Not in a supernatural way, just Reggie not being as thorough as he could be. So William fixes Jackie up, but ties her to a bed while he figures out his next move. Along the way, she’s befriended by William’s daughter Gloria, and eventually the three have to contend with Reggie, Carter, and their gang of goons.
There’s certainly no shortage of precocious kids in horror, but Ava Preston’s Gloria is above average here, and never feels annoying like some do. With a five-year-old in my house, I’m mostly aware of Preston from her roles on kid shows like Odd Squad and from playing the titular character on Wandering Wenda, though she has an impressive list of other credits for someone her age. Preston’s voice is extremely distinctive, and it’s pleasantly jarring to see her in dark fare like this. Gloria’s love for her father shines through in every scene, and is both a high point and a solid anchor for the film to build around.
Unfortunately, clumsy writing in I’ll Take Your Dead gets in the way of what could otherwise be a tight father/daughter story with a home invasion twist. There’s a huge exposition dump in the middle section to flesh out William’s backstory that could have been handled more artfully, though it adds a necessary sympathetic layer to William’s character and Devine really makes a meal of it. More unfortunate is that the supernatural element in I’ll Take Your Dead seems tacked-on and unnecessary. I honestly think the film would be better without it and at times, such as the end of the film, it comes off as silly when it should be poignant. That being said, the ghost stuff is technically well-executed and provides more than a few scares, even if they’re superfluous to the story.
At times, I’ll Take Your Dead feels like three separate movies; a family drama, a crime thriller, and a supernatural horror. Like the characters of William, Gloria, and Jackie, they seem uneasily thrown together, but ultimately there is enough solid character work and atmosphere to make it all work. I’ll Take Your Dead works well in spite of its flaws, and it is a testament to the hard work of its leads.
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 11-22. You can view the schedule and purchase tickets here.