A Trip to The Morgue via TIFF19

A compilation of all the dead mothers I mourned at TIFF.

by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport 

After seeing a few flicks at the Toronto Film Festival, themes will emerge across the various films. At last year’s fest, my Moviejawn pal Jaime Leah Davis, noticed several movies such as Widows, Destroyer and Vox Lux featured bad mothers. This discovery inevitably inspired us and led to our most recent subject matter for the Fall 2019 print edition of Moviejawn.

This year, the pattern at TIFF was clear for me and all I had to do was follow the funeral procession. Out of the twenty films I saw, ten of these flicks featured dead mothers. Watching this many flicks is taxing enough, add in the abundance of maternal morbidity and I found myself with a one way ticket to bummer town. There were so many bodies, I thought I was going to lose track. Luckily I had you, our dear readers in my heart and created a corpse counter on my letterboxd to tabulate my findings. (Of corpse! I did.) As one half of MJ’s Classic Coroners and host of Cinematic Crypt (everyone’s favorite bi-weekly visit to the graveyard by means of a podcast), I’m always up for a good old fashioned cadaver calculation.

*Please note: I didn’t want to spoil anything, so I’ve opted to only share my findings and thoughts on flicks that are quick to reveal the dead mom situation. EXCEPT! When you get to the section: In Memoriam of The Final Three…  You’re welcome. Alright, welllll I’m off to call my mom.


Dead Mother #1: Flatland
Written and Directed by Jenna Cato Bass

It is revealed within the first few minutes of the film, that Natalie’s mother had passed away. The film proceeds to weave this information throughout the rest of the story to help the viewer understand more about Natalie’s past and character. OK. So, remember the movie RUNAWAY BRIDE? Welllll. This story is also about a runaway bride (Natalie), minus the Richard Gere, cheesy plot line and fed-ex product placement. Instead, this is a modern day western set on the frontier of South Africa featuring murder, outlaws and a soap opera obsessed detective donned in velveteen track suits. It tells the story of three women that all manage to find themselves connected. Not a perfect script - but I liked what it was trying to say, and thought Faith Baloyi gave a stand out performance as detective Beauty. 

Release date: The film has been making the festival rounds, release date unknown.

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Dead Mother #2: Dogs Don’t Wear Pants
Directed by J.-P. Valkeapää
Written by J.-P. Valkeapää and Juhana Lumme

After a man’s wife drowns, he finds it hard to connect to others until he meets Mona, a dominatrix. I really enjoyed watching this story unfold. One of this sort is not something you see everyday. The subject of a male suffering from such a severe depression is also not a topic that is regularly portrayed. Depression and anxiety caused by grief are stories we need more of. This was definitely one of those films that I left surprised how much I not only enjoyed it but took away from it. I was glad I made the choice to see it. It had a rather late showtime and I already was four flicks deep for the day. More films like this please.

Release date: The film has been making the festival rounds, release date unknown. 


Dead Mother #3: Blow the Man Down
Written and Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy

This was a great female written and directed female character driven story. Set in a seaside town in Maine, two grief struck sisters find themselves in a financial predicament after their mother passes away from a long term illness. This film manages to pack a lot into ninety minutes and an ice chest! With a body to dump and the discovery of the community’s dark secrets, this flick will keep you more than entertained.

Release date: Amazon nabbed this one, so watch for it soon! 

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Dead Mother #4: Clifton Hill
Directed by Albert Shin
Written by Albert Shin and James Schultz 

Nothing gets a person back to their hometown quicker like a wake; especially when it is a dead mother. This is exactly what happens to Abby. After years of staying away from her hometown of Niagara Falls (Canadian side) she returns only to find herself caught up with a kidnapping she witnessed during her childhood. There was a lot I liked about this noir-esque unreliable detective story. Tales of mystery, murder, kidnapping and magicians ✨, a run down motel (think Bates Motel, minus the motherrrr, of corpse), searching for artifacts (aka dead bodies) that may have “fallwn” over the falls and an alien conspiracy theorist podcaster that runs his show from the basement of a ufo-themed diner. There is a lot going in this hundred minute run-time. Frankly, a bit too much. Unfortunately the ending doesn’t quite gel, feeling slapped together and unrealized. However, I would most definitely categorize this as an after work, Friday night, order a pizza and veg on the sofa type flick.

Release date: The film premiered at TIFF and release date is unknown.

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Dead Mother #5: Love Me Tender
Written and Directed by Klaudia Reynicke

The main character, Seconda suffers from agoraphobia and just as she is about to make her big move on the outside world, her mother unexpectedly passes away. This causes the character to spiral into a frightfully deep depression. Sometimes, we are our own boogeyman. Our minds are capable of doing some scary stuff and, fortunately for Seconda, she finds comfort in a full body zip up hoodie to protect her from this maddening world. This is an unnerving tale that inevitably takes you on a wild adventure.

Release date: The film was acquired by Summerside Intl., release date unknown.

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Dead Mother #6: My Life as a Comedian 
Directed by Rojda Sekersöz
Written by Jonas Gardell 

This movie gave me a lot of anxiety, but the seventies Swedish style production design was sure fun to look at. Based on a novel, this flick, similar to Clifton Hill, is set into motion due to a mother succumbing to a long term illness which causes siblings to take a trip down memory lane. Upon digging through family heirlooms, Juha unearths forgotten and suppressed events from his childhood, specifically his assistance with bullying and alienating his fellow classmates. These flashbacks led to much of my angst due to the cruelty shown by the children to their peers. The movie flips from past to present and the director does a really great job of demonstrating how ghastly childhood can be. The choices we make in the past often turn into ghosts haunting not only us, but our parents too. 

Release: The film releases in Sweden in October. As for the states, unknown. 

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Dead Mother #7: The Other Lamb
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska 
Written by C.S. McMullen

Chanting can be a fun way to spend an evening, especially if it involves black vampire capes, but I am going to pass on the whole cult lyfe. This story’s premise was quite nonsensical to me: An all-female cult led by the Age of Adaline man. I would like to think this would lead anyone to question their own sanity. Why would anyone follow a guy, let alone this dude? Luckily for the group, Raffey Cassidy is smart enough to question the ways of the Charles Manson clone, which leads to… ding, ding: a dead mother. This film exhibited a great performance from Raffey Cassidy (Killing of a Sacred Deer and Vox Lux) and displayed beautiful woodland cinematography. 

Release date: Unknown. 


Dead Mother #8: Waves
Written and Directed by Trey Edward Shults

Trust me, there’s a dead mom and I don’t want to spoil it for you with all the details, OK? I will share this though… I’m really glad I purchased that glass of wine before entering the cinema to watch this flick because it hit me hard. I went in completely cold except for being aware of the director’s previous work and knew nothing about the plot. I wasn’t prepared for the literal waves of emotions I would experience. It tells the story of a family working through situations that arise - basically the ups and downs that life brings and how it affects them. What I love about this movie is the style choices that were made. It is basically two movies in one - the first half is completely manic and off the rails as it tells the story of their son and then for the second part of the film, the mood changes to a more calm/relaxed feeling and tells the story from the daughter’s perspective and how she and her family are affected by the actions of the brother. A must watch flick and will easily  be one of my favorite flicks of the year. 

Release date: November 1, 2019 

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Dead Mother #9: The Perfect Candidate
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour 
Written by Haifaa Al-Mansour and Brad Niemann 

When the director, Haifaa Al-Mansour introduced her film, The Perfect Candidate, she spoke about change. Her first film, Wadjda had to be made entirely with her hiding in a van. Seven years later, for The Perfect Candidate, she didn’t need to be in a van. She was out in the open air to call the shots. People saw her finger point this time. This encouraging  progress is also present in The Perfect Candidate. This film tells the inspiring story of a courageous female Saudi doctor running for government council. What starts as determination to have a road paved in front of the hospital she works at, ends with her paving the way for others. This is the first film I have seen from Haifaa and, clearly, I have some more movie watching to do.  She is amazing. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear her introduce this film, as hearing her speak about the hardships of making a film in an oppressive culture, and being motivated to go against the grain to do it anyways… that is bad ass. This lady gained a new film fan in the old sport that day! Oh… and there’s a dead mom too.

Release date: Unknown 


In Memoriam of The Final Three… 

Dead Mother #10, #11 and #12  

As mentioned above in my intro spiel, out of the twenty films I saw, ten of the movies contained a dead mother somewhere within the plot. Out of respect for your viewing eyes, I have simply listed the last two flicks featuring the dead mom device. One of these flicks, has not one but two dead mommas! Which will it be? Only you can find out… at the CINEMA! 


Jojo Rabbit
Directed and Screenplay by Taika Waiti
Release date: October 18, 2019, review forthcoming to Moviejawn.com 


Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver 
Release date: October 4, 2019, find the review on Moviejawn.com - Monday