Part crime thriller and part ghost story, I’ll Take Your Dead is like a Joe Lansdale novel that’s occasionally interrupted by Lucio Fulci. It’s the latest Shout! Studios release from producer/director Chad Archibald, whose list of credits include The Drownsman and Bite, and it’s his most confident and assured feature to date.
Aidan Devine plays William, a reclusive farmer known among the criminal community as The Candy Butcher because he moonlights as a disposer of bodies, cutting them up into pieces and dissolving them in an acid bath. His young daughter, Gloria (Ava Preston), having grown up around death her entire life, sees the ghosts of her father’s “work” around the house. When a group of killers drop off a body that isn’t what they think it is, William and Gloria have their quiet life turned upside down, possibly for good.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot of I’ll Take Your Dead, because the turns and surprises the movie has in store are better left unspoiled. Suffice it to say that screenwriter Jayme Laforest (working from a story by Archibald) introduces some road bumps into the proceedings, then has the characters deal with the obstacles with a kind of inevitable logic. The film is plotted like all good crime fiction, in which every action has a violent and unavoidable reaction. It’s tight, economical storytelling.
The movie’s supernatural elements are somewhat more problematic. Don’t get me wrong—they’re effectively directed, with ghosts that are well-designed and creepy, and whose appearances range from unsettling to downright scary. It’s just that the film in which they appear can’t fully support them; it either needs more of them or less, never really committing to being a ghost story for a movie that features this many ghosts. The rules are never clear in terms of who is able to see them or what they are able to do, and those beats strike an uneasy balance with the more grounded crime fiction of the rest of the movie. I like both pieces taken individually, but I’m not always sure they work well together.
It’s a minor complaint, though, because I’ll Take Your Dead still works in all the ways it needs to. While the ghost stuff is inconsistent with the rest of the movie, the supernatural elements give it character it might not otherwise have. Besides, the rest of the film is so well-constructed that it can’t be derailed by the appearance of some effectively creepy spirits. The performances are uniformly strong. The photography by Jeff Maher is moody and atmospheric; same goes for the excellent score by Steph Copeland. I’ll Take Your Dead is a gem of a genre mash-up that’s well worth tracking down.
Movie Score: 4/5