The King Tide review — Chilling folk mystery evokes classic 1970s horror

Directed by Christian Sparkes | Written by Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby, Albert Shin, and William Woods | ▲▲▲▲△

I spoke with Newfoundland filmmaker Christian Sparkes when his fantastic first feature, Cast No Shadow, was released back in 2015. There was an element of folk magic in that picture that’s shared here in The King Tide. The earlier film capitalized on the elemental beauty of his home province, just like this one — with full marks to cinematographer Mike McLaughlin  (Alice, Darling, The Kid Detective). What Sparkes has delivered this time is nothing less than a Newfoundland folk mystery, a distant but recognizable descendant of The Wicker Man.  

Isla (Alix West Lefler) is that key mystery. She’s found on a boat, a baby adrift off a remote island community. Ten years later she’s become the centre of the village thanks to her powers of healing. The local townsfolk visit with her and don’t seem to age or suffer from illness. Her powers extend to sustaining the community’s food supply, too, drawing fish into nets. This has allowed the village to self-sustain, to completely sever connection with the mainland. On the surface it seems like a kind of utopian ideal, so long as they have Isla.

Isla is being raised by the village mayor, Bobby (Clayne Crawford) and his wife, Grace (Lara Jean Chorostecki). Bobby’s best friend is Beau (Aden Young), who’s alcoholic. The few kids in town, including Junior (Cameron Nicoll), have an idyllic life — they never feel in any danger because they’ve always lived with Isla’s power to protect them, leading to some strange games. Then there’s Faye (Frances Fisher), Grace’s mother, whose dementia is staved off by Isla’s gift.

There are limits to Isla’s abilities, as we discover one day while she’s out helping the fishers (including the always welcome Michael Greyeyes) and one of the kids does something stupid. Her parents start to feel like the town is too reliant on her and it’s overtaxing her abilities, threatening her wellbeing, but a number of the villagers can’t handle any kind of a distance from her — especially Faye.

The King Tide is never anything but compelling in the world it conjures. It’s not particularly gothic or bothered with cultivating obvious horror tropes, and certainly not concerned with Isla’s origins. Instead it lets the actors take the lead, leaning heavily on the visuals and a terrific score by Andrew Staniland, which is at times orchestral and swelling and at others creepy and John Carpenter-esque.

It isn’t hard to imagine how the promise of immortality and the effort to control nature would sour civil society, and how it would be impossible to maintain, even in isolation. The ironic similarities to The Omen also can’t be denied — even if Isla is more a messiah figure than the Antichrist, the end result is sadly similar. I would pay to see Isla: The King Tide II, to witness her influence spread.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.