Indie horror aficionados might be familiar with the work of writer/director Chad Archibald and Black Fawn Films through movies like Bite and Antisocial. The gang has delivered a slew of entertaining low-budget efforts that hit the spot well enough, but I’ve always felt that they had better movies in them just waiting to be unleashed. Well, with I’ll Take Your Dead, I’m pleased to report that they’ve taken a huge leap forward.
The story follows William (Aidan Devine), a simple rural farmer who’s tasked with getting rid of the corpses of gang members in exchange for payment. It’s a situation he doesn’t want to be in, but he’s just trying to get by like the rest of us. Plus, he has to take care of his daughter, Gloria (Shazam! star Ava Preston), who’s been exposed to so much death in her young life that she can’t quite shake it off. Things go bump in the night, and she’s the only one who notices.
Nicknamed the “Candy Butcher”, William’s job has garnered him quite the reputation among the local criminal folk. They think he’s a cannibal, etc because he keeps to himself and doesn’t like company. When they bring bodies to his house, they pay the man and get out as quickly as possible. However, when William discovers that one of the corpses he receives isn’t so dead after all, we learn that he’s actually a nice guy. Sure, he keeps the victim tied up and bound while her wounds heal and so he can figure out what to do, but when word gets out that she’s still breathing, those who wanted her dead in the first place return to finish the job.
I’ll Take Your Dead is part crime drama, part supernatural horror. For the most part, the genre mashing works quite well as Archibald keeps the spooky beats restrained and leads us to believe that they’re a product of a child’s trauma or over-active imagination. Where the movie really shines, however, is through the character interactions and performances. Archibald and Jayme Laforest’s script is strong throughout and focuses heavily on these characters justifying their actions. If the movie achieves anything, it’s making us sympathize with a man who illegally chops up human beings for a living.
The human drama is the core of the story and offers some interesting food for thought, but the blossoming relationship between Ava and the captive, Jackie (played by Jess Salgueiro) is a highlight. Here we have a child who needs a strong female role model in her life, who finds solace in a woman her father is essentially being kept against her will. What starts out as manipulation on Jackie’s part to win her freedom ultimately becomes a tender and sincere relationship between the two. When the shit eventually does hit the fan, these characters all feel human enough to actually care about.
That said, every plight needs a good bad guy to bring the fire. In this case, the main antagonist, Reggie (Ari Millen), is a detestable prick. He shines every time he’s on-screen and Millen is having a great time sinking his teeth into such a scumbag character. I’d like to have learned more about his background, but that’s just a small complaint. As far as pieces of shit go, he stenches up the lives of our main trio like he’s supposed to.
The infusion of supernatural elements is quite unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean they’re not welcome, either. Personally, I found the movie fascinating because of this aspect. Some movies try too hard to blend genres and end up losing their identity as a result. I’ll Take Your Dead, meanwhile, keeps the balance in check and remains cohesive throughout. The final third will likely divide some viewers as the intersection between reality and fantasy makes its presence known, but you can’t fault the filmmakers for trying something new.
Jeff Maher’s cinematography is, quite simply, stunning. When this movie is released to the wider world I guarantee a few of these shots will find a home in the One Perfect Shot database. Whether it’s capturing the icy countryside in the background or making the farmhouse feel like an old-school Gothic haunted hotspot, he’s able to find beauty in the darkness and pull you into this world through sheer visual eye candy. This guy is going places, mark my words.
I encourage all fright fans to keep I’ll Take Your Dead on their radar. It really is a cool little flick that deserves to find an audience and it will please fans of the macabre. But this is macabre entertainment with real heart, and the film has the potential to be a real breakout movie for some talented filmmakers with some interesting ideas. We need more of those.