TIFF 2022: The Maiden Review

A haunting feature debut

In an outstanding year for emerging talents in Canadian film, The Maiden signals Graham Foy as a major voice. Foy’s first feature, which has its North American premiere at TIFF after debuting at Venice Days and is the first Canadian film to do so since Café de flore, is an assured, and precisely crafted work. It’s a contemporary ghost story of suburban malaise, alienated youths, and innocence lost too soon. The Maiden is a film that whispers, evoking spirits in a story with a piercing sense of absence. This powerful work lingers with its unsettling portrait of a landscape troubled by loss.

The melancholy that cautiously permeates The Maiden is especially striking because the film introduces itself with a youthful spark. Friends Colton (Marcel T. Jiménez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) do what teens do on sunny days. The boys roam the development in Cochrane, Alberta as new homes spill out from the Calgary sprawl. These homes in the making are firmly marked as the boys’ terrain. Tags of “The Maiden” appear everywhere. The name appears scrawled in black ink on plywood and in spray paint on the underbelly of a concrete bridge. Colton and Kyle run through the lush landscape and weave through the pine trees with the same agility with which they navigate the rising homes. With barely a word, The Maiden evokes the sense of invincibility that comes with youth. Echoed by the striking landscape that billows for miles, there is much life before them.

 

Landscapes of Loss

However, a trip to a basement development brings them upon a black cat that met a tragic end. Colton and Kyle wonder if an accident befell the poor kitty. After prodding it a bit, they offer him an elegiac send-off.

The cat’s departure foreshadows further tragedy. When an accident cruelly rips Kyle from the cusp of youth, Colton’s life changes. Jiménez, offering a remarkably introspective performance, makes Colton utterly shell-shocked. He wanders through school completely lost. Time slows. Strolling through the landscape of his grief, the unfinished houses and sidewalks that appear and disappear indiscriminately assume new hues. The Maiden shifts imperceptibly from the cusp of youth to a stillborn existence. His teacher’s lectures further situate his pain within larger cycles of loss and grief. The world that seems so open, wild, and refreshing in The Maiden’s lush opening act becomes cruel. Colton’s vibrant life is completely ripped from under him.

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Wither Whitney

However, when the funky remix of “Ride with Me” by Tungevaag and Kid Ink blasts not once but twice on the soundtrack, The Maiden performs another jarring shift. The melancholy landscape appears not through Colton’s eyes, but through that of his classmate, Whitney (Hayley Ness). Unlike Colton and Kyle, she has no BFF with which to share the freedom of adolescence. Wandering through the development in her own emotional maelstrom, her pain collides both literally and figuratively with the boys.

Foy employs the best traits of slow cinema as he immerses audience in the teens’ psychology. The Maiden evokes the methodical melancholy of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and has a similarly astute visual sense to transport us through the headspace of its characters. Cinematographer Kelly Jeffrey imbues The Maiden with pensive longing. The afterglow of sunsets, and the stark darkness of night shrewdly use negative space, shadows, and fading light.

Just when one thinks one figures things out, Foy reframes things we’ve seen before, consistently surprising a viewer and providing a sense of closure by evoking the tags of “The Maiden” that will long outlive any of these young Albertans. Employing a narrative structure that is deceptive in its simplicity and disarming in its dexterity, The Maiden envelopes a viewer in a sense of loss. It’s truly a haunted film.

 

The Maiden debuted at Venice 2022 and has its North American premiere at TIFF 2022.



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