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Reviews: Poignant thriller ‘I’ll Take Your Dead,’ a tragic hockey ‘Tough Guy’ and more

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Ava Preston in the movie “I’ll Take Your Dead.”
(Shout! Studios)

‘I’ll Take Your Dead’

There are about a half dozen wild horror movie ideas floating freely about in the Canadian thriller “I’ll Take Your Dead,” but director Chad Archibald and screenwriter Jayme Laforest keep them all impressively contained, by building their picture around the bond between a widowed father and his preteen daughter. This film features ghosts, dismemberment, mobster mythology and home invasion — all of which are secondary to some surprisingly moving family drama.

The reliably grounded character actor Aidan Devine plays the dad, William, who lives out in the country, earning his living by disposing of corpses for local gangsters. (The superstitious hoods call him “the Candy Butcher,” and spread rumors about his depravity.) The phenomenal young actress Ava Preston plays Gloria, who watched her mother fight a long, losing battle with leukemia, and is now haunted — in a friendly way — by the spirits of the criminals her father chops up in their basement.

When one of those cadavers — a moll named Jackie (Jess Salgueiro) — turns out to still be alive, William imprisons her, afraid she’ll mess up his plans to skip town. Gloria, on the other hand, is just happy to have a woman around the house.

Right up until the moment when the men who thought they’d killed Gloria return, this is mostly a muted, well-acted story, about a parent realizing his little girl is growing up, and might need more from life than he can provide. Copious blood-spatter aside, “I’ll Take Your Dead” is about as poignant as any movie with vengeful gangster ghosts can be.

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‘I’ll Take Your Dead’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

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Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Glendale; also on VOD

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‘Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story’

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Donald Brashear, left, fights Bob Probert in the documentary “Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story.”
(Dark Star Pictures)

When Bob Probert retired from professional hockey in 2003, he ended his career with the fourth-most NHL penalty minutes, all time. That’s an impressive feat — not just because of Probert’s uncommon commitment to in-game violence, but because no one amasses 3,300 minutes in the penalty box unless he’s good enough to be on the ice in the first place.

Geordie Day’s documentary “Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story” is based on the book “Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge,” cowritten by Probert and journalist Kirstie McLellan Day, who is Geordie Day’s mother. McLellan Day and Probert’s widow, Dani, completed the book after he died of a heart attack in 2010 at age 45. Day has access to interviews with Probert’s family, plus home videos and exclusive audio tapes — everything a good cine-memoir needs.

He doesn’t waste those resources. “Tough Guy” is a warts-and-all look at a man legendary for his exploits on and off of the ice. Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Probert was a throwback, taking on the role of the “enforcer,” picking fights with anyone who tried to push around his teammates. Then, after the games, he drank prodigiously.

That lifestyle took its toll. Probert was a regular at rehab, and was sidelined by team and league suspensions. After he retired, he was slowed by the degenerative brain condition CTE.

Day doesn’t sugarcoat Probert’s problems. What makes “Tough Guy” such a good sports-doc is that it’s unusually honest — both about how much fans loved seeing an old-fashioned bruiser terrorize the NHL, and how that player’s demons inevitably devoured him.

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‘Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Available May 7 on VOD

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‘Clara’

(L-R)- Patrick J. Adams and Troian Bellisario in a scene form “CLARA.” Credit: Sabrina Lantos/Screen
Patrick J. Adams and Troian Bellisario in the movie “Clara.”
(Sabrina Lantos / Screen Media)

The indie drama “Clara” is a low-boil romance with faint echoes of science fiction, tracking the tentative affair between a dour astronomer, Isaac (Patrick J. Adams), and his free-spirited assistant, Clara (Troian Bellisario). Writer-director Akash Sherman gives the film a handsome look, and gets two strong lead performances, but his picture still comes out too static and somber.

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The main issues are in the writing. The characters here are little more than a collection of conflicting positions: the stern academic who suffered a terrible tragedy and now believes life is random and meaningless, versus the touchy-feely artist who tries to teach him to trust in the invisible forces of the universe.

Their passionate affair and philosophical divide — plus the revelation of Clara’s grim secret — all play out while Isaac works himself to exhaustion, scanning the stars for a habitable Earth-like planet. The astronomy material’s more original than Sherman’s run-of-the-mill “opposites attract” plot, though he ultimately puts even the science in service of a bland affirmation of faith. Even at its best, “Clara” feels more like an argument for New Age-y woo-woo than a movie.

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‘Clara’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘The Convent’

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Hannah Arterton in the movie “The Convent.”
(Vertical Entertainment)

Director Paul Hyett’s gothic chiller “The Convent” is an especially grim example of what grindhouse aficionados call “nunsploitation.” The story follows Persephone (Hannah Arterton), a young woman accused of wantonness and confined to a priory, where she quickly surmises something sinister’s afoot. The evil here comes in the form of a literal demon, who preys on the sisters, as well as via the cruel Reverend Mother (Clare Higgins), who thinks fallen ladies deserve what they get.

Hyett and his two very good lead actresses emphasize the psychological aspects of this story, showing how an austere life behind dank nunnery walls could drive anyone to make terrible moral choices. The film’s well-made, thick with spooky 17th century atmosphere.

But it’s also as dreary as its setting, with little original or exciting to add to an already limited horror sub-genre. “The Convent” ultimately has a pretty niche audience: just fans of dark movies about miserable women with drab habits.

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‘The Convent’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; also on VOD

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‘Room for Rent’

Lin Shaye in a scene from “Room for Rent.” Credit: Uncork?d Entertainment
Lin Shaye in the movie “Room for Rent.”
(Uncorked Entertainment)

The septuagenarian character actress Lin Shaye has had a thriving career in horror films over the past decade, playing little old ladies equally sweet and creepy. She gives one of her most disturbing performances in “Room for Rent,” playing Joyce, a recent widow who makes ends meet by turning her house into a B&B. When her new boarder Bob (Oliver Rayon) protects her from some crude delinquents, Joyce mistakes his kindness for romantic interest, and things get upsettingly awkward.

Director Tommy Stovall and screenwriter Stuart Flack smartly keep Joyce at the center of the story, framing her first as a sympathetic sad-sack and then as an annoying weirdo who compulsively meddles in her tenants’ lives. “Room for Rent” straddles the line between 1960s style “hag horror” and an earnest character study, laced with pathos. It’s not the easiest movie to watch; but that’s only because Shaye’s admirably unafraid to tap into the parts of herself that weird people out.

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‘Room for Rent’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

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