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Review: ‘Rhymes for Young Ghouls’ shows the bleak can get bleaker

A scene from ‘Rhymes for Young Ghouls’
A scene from “Rhymes for Young Ghouls.”
(Prospector Films)

Starting off grim and growing ever grimmer, “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” is a blood- and booze-soaked revenge drama marking the impressive debut of filmmaker Jeff Barnaby.

Set on the Red Crow Mi’gMaq reservation in Quebec, Canada, during the mid-‘70s, the film takes place during a not-so-proud period in Canadian history when, by government decree, native children under the age of 16 were required to attend residential schools.

Thus far, 15-year-old Aila (a commanding Devery Jacobs) has avoided the virtual prison that is St. Dymphna’s. As the reservation’s “weed princess,” Aila has peddled enough drugs to pay a regular truancy tax to a sadistic Indian agent (Mark A. Krupa).

Considering the film begins with a prologue containing the tragic death of a child and the suicide of a parent, you can assume “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” isn’t going to be a frothy romp. But when Aila’s drug money is stolen, life as she has come to know it takes an even bleaker turn.

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Writer-director Barnaby weaves a surprising amount of tenderness into the fabric of violence, as well as a good measure of magic realism, to keep the gritty story engaging.

Its most potent weapon, however, is Jacobs, a remarkably self-possessed actress whose fearless performance brings to mind a younger Ellen Page.

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“Rhymes for Young Ghouls”

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MPAA rating: R for violence, drug use, language, sexual references, graphic nudity.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.


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