The King Tide

Newfoundlander director Christian Sparkes (Hammer) seems as though he dipped into A24’s back catalogue to draw inspiration for his effective east coast chiller The King Tide. While there may be stylistic similarities to David Eggers’ work (The Witch, The Lighthouse) and Ari Aster’s movies (Hereditary, Midsommar), Sparkes’ ominous dramatic thriller doesn’t necessarily resemble Canada’s usual output. At least, not since Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology.

After a small village discovers an abandoned child under a capsized boat, the kid’s secret is soon exposed. The girl, Isla, has supernatural healing powers that the community, almost immediately, starts using as a resource for recuperation. Isla becomes such a reliable asset that when her abilities are diminished by her first real traumatic event, the village is at a loss for how to follow through. Her parents Bobby (Clayne Crawford) and Grace (Lara Jean Chorostecki) plead for their adoptive daughter to rest, while the rest of the community (spearheaded by unsympathetic elder Faye played by Frances Fisher of Titanic fame) demand alternative methods that would still allow Isla’s healing to be a staple.

Screenwriters Albert Shin (In Her Place, Disappearance at Clifton Hill) and producer William Woods want The King Tide to function as a low-key, slow-burning character-driven piece. Aside from the leading conflict shared by Bobby and Grace, with such an even spread of fairly broad archetypes who always need to be associated with Isla to be interesting, the script doesn’t provide enough material for the supporting cast. Although, the roles are performed well despite the thin material. Even Isla, despite a strong performance by young Alix West Lefler, isn’t developed further than being a supernatural enigma. There’s a jump in time early into the movie that may move the plot along, but the device ends up shortchanging the ensemble.

The King Tide truly thrives as an eerie atmospheric folktale with a barnburner of an ending, suggesting that the director can identify where there’s potential in otherwise underwritten material. Sparkes does a great job building a sense of foreboding fear as the community gradually turns on each other, interpreting and portraying the town’s solidarity to scary segregation. The extent of Isla’s talents are also integrated well into the presentation with contrasting edits from shrieking panic to unsettling emptiness. The strong evocative reactions from the audience ensue with the help of Mike McLaughlin’s chilly cinematography (Door Mouse, Hands That Bind) and an effectively uneasy score by composer Andrew Staniland (The Righteous).


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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