Simmering psychological warfare stalks the quiet suburban setting of Cardinals like Freddy Krueger on Elm Street, except here there’s no boogeyman to kill except for your next-door neighbour.
The first feature from Toronto filmmakers Grayson Moore and Aiden Shipley unfolds almost entirely on an eerily sleepy street in Anytown, Ontario, where 10 years prior, a tragic car accident left one resident dead and one in prison. Now, Valerie Walker (Sheila McCarthy) is newly released and back at home where the victim’s son, Mark (Noah Reid), is still living across the street, all grown up and wanting some answers.
Moore and Shipley expertly milk the tension of this situation with the stark slow-burn intensity of a Michael Haneke film. It’s obvious that Valerie just wants to move on with her life while Mark understandably wants closure. But as his attempts to force conversations and insinuate himself into Valerie’s life become more aggressive, it’s clear that he’s not fully buying the drunk driving excuse that the accident was labeled as. And with Valerie displaying some strange secretive tendencies of her own, the possibility that something else went on that fateful night starts to open up.
Portrayed as a desolate wasteland of development where everybody hides behind closed doors, the suburbs act as an empty stage for the main players to enact this generational blood feud. And to that end, the acting is electric. Reid (miles away from his leading man breakout in Score: A Hockey Musical) wavers between benign friendliness and seething hostility so that we never know if he’s going to enter the scene with an awkward pleasantry or a veiled threat. Meanwhile, Katie Boland and Grace Glowicki lend nice support as Valerie’s now-twentysomething daughters, who have conflicting feelings about their mother’s situation, and Peter Spence provides some subtle comic relief as Valerie’s increasingly confused parole officer.
But Cardinals is really a showcase for Sheila McCarthy, one of Canada’s national treasures since playing the whimsical lead of Patricia Rozema’s seminal I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing. In Valerie, she has the weariness of a life gone awry but also the determination to put the past behind her. And while the subject matter here is markedly more serious, she still brings some light humour to unexpected moments. As more layers of the mystery are peeled away, McCarthy makes Valerie as unpredictable as Mark, culminating in a climactic stand-off that may overreach a bit but still delivers an impact. It’s the meatiest role she’s had in years and it’s thrilling to see her tear into it.
Add Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley to the growing wave of new local filmmakers to watch – their atmospheric thriller shows a ton of promise.
- Release Date: 8/31/2018