Directed by: Jeff Barnaby.
Written by: Jeff Barnaby.
Starring: Devery Jacobs (Aila), Mark Antony Krupa (Popper), Roseanne Supernault (Anna), Katie Nolan (Tammy), Glen Gould (Joseph), Brandon Oakes (Burner), Kent McQuaid (Milch), Cody Bird (Sholo), Miika Bryce Whiskeyjack (Young Aila), Nathan Alexis (Angus ).
There is a lot of anger in Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Set mainly in 1976, when every First Nations child in Canada under the age of 16 was required to go to the Residential Schools – places where they were often subject to horrific physical, mental and sexual abuse – Barnaby doesn’t shy away from showing what happened in those schools. Yet, Rhymes for Young Ghouls is not just a dry, depressing history lesson – it is more of a genre film than anything, one that used real life horror as the backdrop of an exciting revenge thriller. Obviously inspired by the films of Quentin Tarantino – notably Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, which did the same thing, Rhymes for Young Ghouls is exciting, funny, violent, horrifying and brutal at different times. Yes, it goes on too long for the little plot it has – and does try to jam a little too much into its runtime at the same time. Yes, Barnaby may go a little overboard on the style (particularly in the first act, with its numerous uses of slow motion, and blood splatter). It has its awkward moments, it instances of not very good acting, and other problems. But it is also an entertaining movie – one that has more on its mind than most films of its kind – and one that announces Barnaby as a new talent to watch.The film opens in 1969, when Alia watches her drunken mother do something that results in a tragedy – and not being able to deal with that, kill herself. Her father is then taken away to jail – and she’s left with her uncle Burner (Brandon Oakes). Seven years pass, and Alia is making quite a little living dealing pot alongside Burner, and others – enough to pay Popper (Mark Anthony Krupa) a Truancy tax, which will allow her to stay out of the Residential School, that Popper runs, and abuses everyone in his care. But all at once, Alias (now played by the promising young actress Devery Jacobs) has her money stolen, and sees her father return from jail – turning her world upside down. If she cannot get the money, she’ll have to go to that school – and be abused – and now she has deal with her father, who seems to be a broken man. She hatches a plot to get everything she wants.
The movie is mainly well made by Barnaby – there is style to burn in the film, but never quite goes over the top. Like Django Unchained, some of the violence in the film is almost cartoonish in its extreme nature – like something out of an exploitation film – and at times almost too realistic to watch without being disturbed. It’s a difficult balance to get right – but Barnaby mainly nails it.
The film does try to do too much – mainly the various subplots, which take the movie off into unnecessary detours, and does kind of run out of steam in its second half (at least until the excellent finale). The acting is uneven through as well, something probably inevitable in a movie with so many non-professional actors. What keeps the movie hanging together is Jacobs performance as Aila. It is a wonderful performance, heartbreaking and subtle, as she struggles with the trauma of her past – yet tough as nails as she fights for her future. The movie may get lost at times, but Jacobs keeps getting it back on track.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls is not a great film – but it is a good one, and it is a really good first effort. Films from Canada’s First Nations have been far too few and far between to begin with – and ones that take the legacy of violence inflicted upon its people, and turn it into something wholly different are even fewer. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is not a great film – but I think it could be the start of a great career for Barnaby and Jacobs.