Writing in the Toronto International Film Festival program book Steve Gravestock said Rhymes with Young Ghouls plays, “as if an S.E. Hinton novel were re-imagined as a righteously furious, surreal thriller.”
The self-assured debut feature from director Jeff Barnaby is the story of Aila (Devery Jacobs), an Aboriginal teenager who is guided by the spirits of her departed mother and brother to exact revenge against a vicious Indian Agent named Popper.
“I think the idea behind what we were doing was to show the enormity of that went on,” says Barnaby. “You do want to shock people but not with the content of the film but with the idea that the content of the film actually happened. Most of the reviews have been astoundingly positive but the couple of bad ones that we’ve gotten have complained about the Popper role, and how over the top it is and how he is like this moustache twisting villain, but if you know the history, these guys had to have existed.
“I suppose you could be polite about saying, ‘You can’t leave the reserve and you can’t go find work and you have to live in this poverty, and by the way, you have to give us your kids.’ I’m sure there was an Indian Agent or truant officer somewhere who was really cool about it but at the end of the day these are the acts of evil men.”
It’s a pop culture savvy movie; a work Barnaby calls “a cinephile’s film.” A pop culture sponge himself, he says years of influences came together in the making of Rhymes with Young Ghouls.
“I grew up being saturated in everything, comic books, books,” he says. “My stepmom was going to university at the time so she was bringing home all these great books, like English poetry, T.S. Elliot and Robert Frost, so I began to appreciate art at a very early age.”
Near the top of the influence list are Batman and Conan the Barbarian.
“They are both anti-heroes but they share this idea of not being above physical violence in order to rectify a situation,” he says. “They both lost their parents, they’re both vigilantes particularly with Conan we follow the storyline of the first Schwarzenegger movie—a religious cult comes along and destroys his family and he goes searching for them and destroys the cult. That is more or less the model we used for Rhymes although very loosely, in the way Scorsese says he used The Searchers for Taxi Driver.”
He also cites Scott Hampton’s The Upturned Stone, Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club but adds the influences go “through all these filters and by the time it hits the screen what you are trying to emulate has turned into something completely different.”