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(The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs September 7-17 and HtN has tons of coverage coming your way! Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of The King Tide. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

On a small island off the coast of Newfoundland lives a community of people cut off from the mainland, self-sufficient in all ways. How do they manage? There is a miracle worker among them, a 10-year-old girl who came to them one day, out of nowhere, a foundling on a capsized boat drifting on the tide. Able to cure every ailment and also lure fish to shore, young Isla ensures that no harm will come to anyone. Or so she and they think.

Such is the setup of The King Tide, from director Christian Sparkes (Hammer). In an opening prologue, he ably positions the narrative for further evolution, crafting brief character sketches that will come to fruition later on. Then we flash forward 10 years to the development of island culture since Isla’s arrival, complete with ceremonial daily visits to her house, where residents come for their cures and blessings. It’s a good life.

Adopted by Bobby (Clayne Crawford, The Killing of Two Lovers), the mayor, and his wife, Grace (Lara Jean Chorostecki, Hammer), Isla (Alix West Lefler, The Good Nurse) abides in relative calm despite the constant service to which she is put. Everyone treats her with kindness and respect, among them her grandmother, Faye (Frances Fisher, This Is Not a War Story), whose dementia has been in remission this past decade. Bobby and Grace have barely aged. What could go wrong with this picture?

There are hints of future trouble in both the absolute dependence of everyone on Isla and in her difficulties controlling her powers with over time; they seem just as able to destroy as restore. What will happen to these (somewhat) good folks if the situation changes? Now that they have forgotten how to fend for themselves, a new routine might be hard to learn.

The island is forced to confront just such a scenario when Isla suddenly loses her abilities in the wake of tragedy. Now Bobby and Grace must decide if the well-being of their adopted daughter is worth more to them than the serenity of their friends and neighbors. But to leave and break the rules they have themselves created would be an unthinkable betrayal. What, then, to do, and how to do it?

The King Tide (which takes its title from a colloquialism that refers to an exceptionally high tide) is both family drama and stark existential thriller, complemented by supernatural mysticism. At its best, it analyzes the dangers of insularity and mob rule. When it occasionally falters, especially at the end—which proves abrupt and therefore less than satisfying—it still fascinates, like a mermaid that holds the imagination even as it resolves into an ordinary seal upon closer examination. There are hidden secrets below the surface, even if some remain obscure.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2023 Toronto International Film Festival; Christian Sparkes; The King Tide movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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