Shortly after I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD begins, twelve-year-old Gloria (Ava Preston) tells the audience in voiceover that she sees dead people. Naturally, this brought me instantly back to THE SIXTH SENSE. Jesus, what else are they going to steal from other movies? But I shouldn’t have worried. I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD is a pretty original flick that definitely stands on its own.
Written by Jayme Laforest from a story by Chad Archibald, who also directed the film, I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD is a mix of psychological thriller and supernatural horror. It’s a fun movie that will leave the viewer with plenty to think about.
William (Aidan Devine), nicknamed by his criminal clientele as the Candy Butcher, cuts dead people into pieces and dissolves them in hydrochloric acid for a living, and he’s become a kind of urban legend because of it. But he never chose the job. He was blackmailed into it after a group of bad guys brought a friend of theirs to his isolated farmhouse. At first, the idea was to get William to help save the guy. But when the poor schmuck died, William was forced to dispose of the body or risk harm to his pre-teen daughter.
If you went into the movie completely blind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was the villain. I’m not really giving anything away here. The official synopsis says as much. But if you somehow didn’t know anything about the movie going in, well, when you see a guy in a dirty basement sawing the ankle off a corpse, there doesn’t at first seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity. But it doesn’t take long before you realize that William isn’t too into this whole corpse disposal thing. And far from being the villain, or even a killer, he’s a sympathetic, melancholy, intense three-dimensional character who’s only doing what he has to do in order to protect his daughter, who’s the only family he has left after the death of his wife.
When three bodies are dropped off at his place, William begins the usual disposal process, only to find out in a rather startling manner that one of them, Jackie (Jess Salgueiro), a young woman in her mid-twenties, is still very much alive.
We’re at least fairly certain by this point that William isn’t going to kill her. Still, what the hell is he supposed to do with her? And what if the nice fellas who dropped her off at his doorstep find out that she’s still alive? What, indeed. So for the time being, he ties her to a bed in order to prevent her escape while he tries to figure out a plan.
All three of the lead actors do a stunning job. Aiden Devine, a veteran character actor (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, WOLFCOP), conveys all sorts of emotions underneath a veneer of stoicism. But the standout performance comes from Ava Preston. It’s sometimes astonishing how good she is. She was born in 2004, making her twelve or thirteen years old at the time the movie was shot. She does a ton of emotional heavy lifting, having to balance the innocence of an isolated preteen girl who doesn’t even know what a period is with the world-weariness of a girl who’s had to grow up much too soon. She knows what her dad does for a living, and it has become more or less a “normal” part of her everyday life. There’s not a moment when Preston isn’t believable. This is a talent to keep an eye out for.
Jess Salgueiro plays Jackie as both tough and compassionate. Besides being shot and left for dead, the way Jackie navigates her kidnapping shows that she’s no stranger to violence. She also has genuine affection for Gloria, even though she’s not above manipulating the girl to try to escape. It’s quite heartwarming, actually, to see their relationship develop. Gloria’s mother has been dead for some time, and a father who chops up dead bodies in the basement isn’t exactly going to meet all of her parental needs. Gloria is searching for a mother, and Jackie needs someone to mother. It’s very touching, actually, watching this makeshift family form.
The supernatural elements can undercut this drama at times. I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD would have worked fine as a psychological thriller. You could have cut the ghost subplot out and still have had a compelling movie. But the spirits of those who have been disposed of at William’s farm add a layer of melancholy to the whole thing, so they’re not wholly without merit.
The movie comes in at a little under ninety minutes, but the time seems to fly by. The film moves at a slower, deliberate pace, but the character drama is just so damn compelling, and the acting is so good that you just don’t want to leave these people. You want to follow their sorrowful little lives a bit further down the road to see where they end up. The supernatural horror elements didn’t work much for me, but the character-level stuff more than makes up for it. In truth, this was a pretty amazing experience.
This Scream Factory release is pretty bare bones. You get about ten minutes of a pretty basic behind-the-scenes featurette with your talking heads and b-roll from the set. There’s also a pretty big handful of deleted scenes — about ten or so. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor, but seeing what was left out gives you an appreciation for just how tightly the film was edited.
I’m not sure that the special features make this a must-have Blu-ray purchase, but the film itself is definitely worth seeking out.