When I first decided which of the many awesome options to view at this years festival, Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls was one of the first to catch my eye. As a lifelong fan of horror and grind house, I was looking forward to this gritty, action packed feature and boy, was I ever surprised by this flick. Ghouls went way above and beyond my already heightened expectations. Barnaby’s work is always extremely gritty and this was no exception. There were fists flying abound, audible bashings, shit-showers, suicide, head explosions, concussions of various kinds and Jeff’s compulsory inclusion of the walking dead. The beautiful Devery Jacobs was astounding as Aila. I’d say I couldn’t take my eyes of her but she’s in almost every shot in the movie so that would be redundant, but nevertheless she was insanely captivating. She described the film as ‘raw and unforgiving’ in this interview, perfect adjectives to describe this 1970’s era grit-fest about a group of narcotic-dealing rez orphans bent on survival at any cost.
Jeff Barnaby’s 2013 TIFF-premiered feature Rhymes for Young Ghouls
The combination fast-paced horror intercepted with comedy and magical realism makes Ghouls a potent, explosive flick that literally had me winded. Although I know of the residential system, I feel that the majority of Canadians remain ignorant due to pitfalls throughout our education systems nationwide. It is always shocking to be reminded that these institutions were still in full swing for Indigenous Gen X children, the last of them closing less than twenty years ago. Barnaby’s tactical combination of these genres is a specialty of his and is a tool for effectively dealing with the trauma of the residential school system that lingers on in Canada. Tarantino’s controversial Django Unchained came to mind as a point of reference, but Barnaby surpasses this flick as both an originally badass movie and as platform for discussion on t crucial topics that are so often ignored. I hope it enjoys the commercial success it deserves.
Glen Gould, Devery Jacobs and Brendon Oakes in Rhymes for Young Ghouls
I was also excited by Ariel Smith’s video essay This Video Essay Was Not Built On an Ancient Indian Burial Ground: Examining Horror Film Aesthetics within Indigenous Cinema. In this short, Smith, dressed as an Elvira spoof, dissects the use of horror tropes in Indigenous cinema, and the use of Indigenous tropes in horror cinema. Using Barnaby’s work as a starting point, she discussed how horror tropes can be used to create a space where traumatic cultural memories can be dealt with. Smith played gory snippets from Barnaby’s shorts The Colony and File Under Miscellaneous. In both these films, he uses gratuitous self-mutilation as a way to deal with the residual violence of colonialism. Smith also touched on the 1980’s cinematic obsession with the “Indian burial ground” as the mysterious reason for various demonic happenings. “Classics” were rendered ridiculous in front of a gleeful audience, eager to find humour in demonic hullabaloo. It became all too apparent that although the disruption of the sacred dead was the source for each plotline development, nothing tangible or political surfaced as a result. This burial ground complex also alluded to ‘Indians’ as a deceased thing of the past, belonging to an ancient time that has now passed.
Thomas Builds-The-Fire (Evan Adams) and Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) in Smoke Signals
It goes without saying that horror would be nothing without its outrageous bedfellow, camp. Idle No More activist Wanda Nanibush’s video essay, Indigenous Film: Outsiders, Loveable Losers and Nerds consisted of a montage of examples Indigenous Outsider Cinema, including Taika Waititi’s 2010 film Boy and Chris Eyre’s 1998 adaption of Smoke Signals. Nanibush showed the important use of camp by Indigenous writers and directors as a tool in dealing with heavier themes such as death, feelings of failure, struggles with unbelonging and negotiating cultural apartheid. These film tropes gain poignancy when adopted by Indigenous directors because the characters employing them become more real than their one-dimensional quirky Caucasian counterparts. The irony of this use of the outsider in Indigenous cinema is ironic, as Indigenous peoples worldwide have long battled with falling outside the mainstream or colonial ideals. Eccentric characters allow those out of step to see the humour in their difference.