Chilly Canadian Noir

Robert Moyes reviews Victoria Film Festival screening of Cardinals

By Robert Moyes

As long as you’re prepared to be left in the dark for awhile, Cardinals is an interesting, low-key thriller anchored with a great performance by celebrated Canadian actor Sheila McCarthy (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Orphan Black). McCarthy stars as Valerie Walker, who has just gotten out of prison after serving a long sentence for vehicular manslaughter while drunk – late at night she’d killed a neighbour who lived just across the street. We meet her two daughters, Zoe and Eleanor, when they pick Valerie up at prison and drive her back to her home in the suburbs.

Valerie looks washed out from her years of incarceration, but seems stoically prepared to begin reclaiming her life. The next morning there’s a knock at the door and Valerie answers it to discover Mark, the son of the man she killed. She invites him to sit at the breakfast table with her two daughters, and the resulting conversation is stilted and ambiguous. “Thank you for forgiving me,” blurts Valerie at one point, even though it’s obvious the superficially polite Mark is seething with quiet anger and has offered no such absolution. As it turns out, Mark isn’t seeking closure so much as he is conducting his own investigation into what happened.

As the nature of the accident is called into question, tension slowly mounts and a secret between Valerie and the eldest daughter are hinted at. Later, there’s a very awkward meeting between Valerie and a friend and workmate from the plant where they both worked. Eventually, tension leads to menace, and the story climaxes with a dramatic but not entirely satisfying confrontation – albeit one made remarkable thanks to the riveting presence of McCarthy.

Cardinals is the feature-length debut of directors Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley, who have previously worked on short films. They have gotten decent performances out of everyone, and have cultivated intriguing psychological undercurrents. The film benefits from some deadpan humour courtesy of Valerie’s eccentric parole officer. And despite an obvious low budget, they used the wintry Ontario setting to effectively establish a subtly noirish mood. That said, the story is on the slight side, and the timing and manner in which the film’s secrets emerge seems awkward.

Rating: ***

Showing Sun., 9 pm, Feb. 11 at SilverCity

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