TIFF 2023 | The King Tide (Christian Sparkes, Canada) — Platform

By Josh Lewis

“People die, remember?” East Coast island mayor Bobby (Clayne Crawford) calmly has to remind his wife Grace (Lara Jean Chorostecki) in The King Tide—a new slow burn quasi-folk horror indie drama from Newfoundland & Labrador-born director Christian Sparkes. At that point, Bobby’s community has been struggling against the increasing influence of mainland modernity for a decade with the help of their adopted daughter Isla (Alix West Lefler), who one day washed onto their shoreline as a baby with the ability to perform supernatural miracles with a simple touch; including attracting larger schools of Cod for their fishing boats and healing everything from household knife accidents to cancer and alzheimers. But the line between supernatural and unnatural can be a blurry one, and when Isla experiences a traumatic event that pauses her ability to cure everyone and re-triggers their biological clocks, the careful social balance of her village is strained and soon begins to drift towards cult-like thoughts of kidnapping and murder in order to preserve their outmoded way of life.

It’s a sound concept (co-written by Albert Shin, who wrote and directed 2019’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill) given an admirably patient and elemental approach by Sparkes. Unfortunately, that same instinct to give this material a muted sensibility also trickled down into a fairly drab and sleepy shallow focus visual style and tone that feels more more like preparation for its eventual position among streaming shows on Crave than it does the mundane island travelogue horror of The Wicker Man. And by the time Sparkes has built his way to an ending that (perhaps subconsciously) evokes Brian De Palma’s Carrie, you’ll wonder how something so disturbingly fatalistic in concept—like a child violently realizing the flaws, fears, selfishness and mortality of adults—feels kind of banal and contrived in execution.