“Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s alive and who’s dead. I think most people are scared of the dead. Not me. I see dead people all the time.”
So says 12-year-old Gloria (Ava Preston) in the voiceover that opens I’ll Take Your Dead, the latest film from director Chad Archibald (Bite, 2015; The Heretics, 2017). One might imagine that she sees dead people using clairvoyant powers, like the little boy from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) – but it fast becomes clear that a more literal meaning attaches to her words. For she lives on an isolated, snowbound farm in Canada with her widowed father, the cattleman William (Aidan Devine) – and his sideline in freelance work disposing of corpses ensures that she sees plenty of dead people before they end up in the acid bath in daddy’s basement.
Explaining why, when one of the bodies brought to him turned out still to be alive, he tended her wounds, William assures Gloria, “I’m not a monster.” Gloria’s riposte – “You melt people in the back room” – hardly seems unreasonable, and William does, after all, now have the recovering Jackie (Jess Saigueiro) bound and gagged in the bedroom upstairs. Certainly the criminals for whom William performs his disposal service think of him as a near mythic monster, whose reputation for depraved abominations – not unlike his nickname the ‘Candy Butcher’ – precede him. Yet William is a conflicted, compromised man, trying to do good – and to look after his daughter – in the most difficult of circumstances, where his choices are greatly constrained. The very fact that he has kept Jacki alive – something which Gloria herself initially fails to understand – distinguishes him from his underworld employers. And once they discover that she is not dead, William will be faced with more life-changing moral dilemmas.
“We’re just a normal family,” comments Gloria, “normal for me, I guess.” I’ll Take Your Dead is as much about Gloria as about William. Unlike other girls her age, she performs surgical dismemberments on her dolls and teddy bears (in imitation of William’s work downstairs), and her (maybe) imaginary friends are not other children but ghosts still bearing the hideous scars of their death – for she does indeed see dead people in more ways than one. During the course of the film, Gloria’s menarche kicks in, as a signifier of her coming of age and transition from girlhood to womanhood. Her mother’s death from leukaemia has left a big space in Gloria’s life, which she is all too happy to fill with Jackie – and so we are given a portrait of a very unconventional family which finds its own way of accommodating, even moving on from, the deaths that have haunted it.
I’ll Take Your Dead was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.