'The Maiden' Review: A Melancholic Study Teenagers in Wake of Tragedy

Something or someone is definitely haunting the grassy Calgary ravine where much of Graham Foy’s ambitiously amorphous debut takes place. But whether it’s the roaming spirits of local teenagers taken before their time, or the grief of the friends they leave behind, or the lingering shadow of a large swathe of Gus Van Sant’s noughties filmography, or perhaps simply the more fully embodied drama whose outlines are just discernible through the pellucid layers of metaphysics, mournfulness and 16mm grain, it’s very hard to say.

Foy arrives as a filmmaker with an indisputable gift for atmosphere and a forthright faith in the potential of cinema to grasp the ungraspable, say the unsayable, and strive for meaning out beyond the edges of everything we traditionally believe to be meaningful. But whether the elegance of his aspirations is quite done justice by the sometimes distractingly elliptical nature of his storytelling is another matter. “The Maiden” is magnificently moody, but only intermittently moving. 

The distanced register in which much of the film plays is a deliberate choice, as indicated by the far more vivid opening, in which we first meet Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) and his best friend Colton (Marcel T. Jiménez) hanging out during one of those empty yet paradoxically eventful days that we all had as teenagers. They skateboard aimlessly down dull suburban streets. They talk about nothing and everything and dare each other to board down a steep grassy hillside. They discover a dead cat in an abandoned building site, and with the kind of grossed-out fascination peculiar to teenage boys, poke at it with stones and sneakers. But just when it seems there’s not much more to them than this idle boneheaded shuffling and jostling, they decide to give the cat a rather touching send-off. They build and decorate a little raft and send its corpse off down the river like in a Viking farewell. Suddenly, we like them, these languid, loose-limbed lost boys.

Already it’s clear that while both are outsiders, Kyle, from some angles reminiscent of River Phoenix in “Stand By Me,” is the leader and Colton, a lanky lad with a Sideshow Bob hairdo and a lolloping gait, the sidekick. Kyle peppers his speech with f-bombs, more a verbal tic than a display of actual aggression, and spray-paints graffiti on any available surface — later, the ubiquity of his tag, “Maiden,” will become an ongoing motif. Then, just as the characters are coming into focus, tragedy looms in the shape of a nighttime stunt on the train tracks, and Colton is suddenly left friendless and leaderless and, following his grieving, isolated figure through school hallways and car parks, the film becomes similarly unmoored. 

It’s not until quite some time later — which seems longer still given Foy’s fondness for indulgently long takes and editor Brendan Mills’ adherence to the less-is-more school of cutting — that the story picks up again, and begins to take on its intriguing supernatural overtones. In perhaps the film’s most successfully audacious coup, a slow narrative somersault occurs, prompted by Colton’s discovery of a battered diary belonging to Whitney (Hayley Ness) a schoolmate of his and Kyle’s who had gone missing some time prior. As Colton leafs through the diary, we follow Whitney’s movements in the days and weeks before her disappearance, with Foy showing a rare compassion for her (like Colton she’s the more timid of her best-friends duo) as she experiences that anxious moment when childhood bonds become strained in the newly hormonal vortex of young adulthood.

DP Kelly Jeffrey’s photography casts a dreamlike spell that makes the transition from woozy realism to woozy abstraction that much more credible. And the diaphanous plotting is grounded somewhat by the raw-edged performances of the non-professional cast. The formal frustrations lie elsewhere, in the withholding approach that at times feels like a self-conscious attempt to subvert conventional dramatic form, and to zig where any other movie might zag. Occasionally, what is an essentially simple, if gently surreal evocation of the yearning dislocation of youthful grief is undercut by the sense of the filmmaker deliberately intervening to lean on moments and ponder dramatic beats that are not wholly organic to the internal rhythms of the story and its characters. 

But if not everything works, “The Maiden” still has style and sensitivity to spare, and it’s rare to come across a first film that is so invested in reimagining such well-trafficked territory from the inside out. And once Colton finds that rain-soaked journal, the poetry of Foy’s approach morphs from blank verse into a more powerful kind of internally rhyming meter. We might wonder if everything thereafter is imagined, or if time itself, perhaps fed up with forever trundling forward like a train that cannot leave its track, has come unstuck. Maybe, merely by wishing it so to the exclusion of all else, Colton has found himself back in a moment when the dead cat, and therefore his dead friend, was still alive. Or maybe Kyle and Whitney really are together, in the vale beyond the veil. Whatever the case, “The Maiden” may take its sweet time getting there, but there is an eerie beauty and a strange sort of comfort in the idea of there being a place, perhaps not so very far away from the haunts they always haunted, where all the lost children find themselves, and where they can find each other.

You May Also Like

BBTitans: Theo Traw tenders apology to Phyna for insulting her during her season [Video]

Theo Traw, however, tendered an apology to Phyna for saying hurtful things…

Clare Crawley, 41, of The Bachelor weds beau Ryan Dawkins, 45, in Sacramento

Bachelor vet Clare Crawley, 41, wed her fiancé of only three months,…

Ashton Kutcher publicly apologises to Harry Styles after awkward encounter at a karaoke party

Ashton Kutcher has publicly apologised to hitmaker Harry Styles for an extremely…

Taylor Lautner’s Wife Tay Is “Deceased” Over His Taylor Swift Comment

As for what went down after that moment? Well, Swift seemed to…

“I Love the Stress That Comes With My Job”- Yul Edochie Says Amid Backlash Over New Movie

Amid the criticism that has trailed his role as Peter Obi in…

Merle Dandridge Says Her Bomb Expert Dad Would Survive an Apocalypse

The new HBO series, The Last of Us, stars Merle Dandridge as…

CHANEL THIERRY TO RECEIVE $19,000 PER MONTH IN CHILD SUPPORT FROM EX-HUSBAND DJ MUSTARD

DJ Mustard will pay his ex-wife, Chanel Thierry, $19,000 per month in…

Man stops passenger from opening shade

There are some unspoken airplane etiquette rules, among the most debated is…