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Film / Rhymes for Young Ghouls

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Rhymes for Young Ghouls is a 2013 Canadian drama film and the feature film debut of writer-director Jeff Barnaby. It is set in 1976 on an Indian reserve in the context of the residential school system. Although it tells the fictional story of a teenager named Aila and her plot for revenge, it is based on the history of abuse of the First Nations people by government agents, including a large number of reported cases of the mental and physical abuse of residential school children.

Devery Jacobs was nominated for a Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role at the Canadian Screen Awards for her portrayal of Aila. Rhymes for Young Ghouls was awarded Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival and received highly favorable critical reviews.

Rhymes for Young Ghouls provides examples of...

  • Accidental Murder: Anna accidentally kills Tyler, Aila's brother, while driving under the influence.
  • Attempted Rape: Popper attempts to rape Aila near the end.
  • Badass in Distress: After successfully masterminding an escape from the school and humiliating her former captors in the process, Aila is beaten and nearly raped by Popper.
  • Badass Native: Aila, though fortunately, her portrayal is significantly less racist or stereotypical than most examples of this trope.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Aila and her father have reconciled. She got her revenge on Popper, and he's dead before he could do her more harm. Gisigu is going to steer her away from further drug-dealing. Joe is going to prison again though, likely for a very long time, and we don't know if he'll ever get out. The schools are still open too, and Aila has many scars from her past.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: The residential school that Aila is ultimately sent to is notorious for being this. We see Popper instructing the boys that virtually everything is punishable by a beating or being held in isolation.
  • Broken Bird: Aila. She lost her mother to suicide after accidentally killing her little brother. Her father has been in prison for years. She's reacted by growing into a tough, cynical fifteen year old girl who's dealing drugs with her uncle. We see that she's clearly never gotten over losing her mother though, who she speaks to regularly (whether an actual ghost or just her imagination is left ambiguous).
  • Chekhov's Gun: Aila's gas mask. We first see her wear it when she's doing her spray paint art, then we see her wear it again at the party where she sells her different varieties of marijuana, presumably to avoid inhaling any of the smoke, and eventually a flashback shows her mother wearing it when she's teaching spray paint art to young Aila.
  • Corporal Punishment: The residential school is run like a prison. Punishments include beatings and solitary confinements, and those are only the punishments.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Aila has a spiritual connection with her mother, where she practically prays to her and feels in return a supernatural guidance. This usually involves conversations with her ghost (or perhaps only Aila's imagination, though the effect is the same).
  • Disappeared Dad: Aila's father Joseph. He's been in jail, though he returns early on in the film.
  • Downer Beginning: Two people are dead within the first five minutes.
  • Driven to Suicide: Anna, after accidentally killing her son.
  • Due to the Dead: Aila and Joe's trauma over losing Anna is only deepened by the fact that she's also been denied proper burial as a suicide. In fact, it's happened to many people, all buried close together. They visit her grave out in the forest regularly to make up for this.
  • Excrement Statement: Aila and her gang fill the water pipes at St. Dymphna's with excrement, so that when Popper takes his shower, he gets covered in shit.
  • A Handful for an Eye: When one of Popper's goons tries to grab Joseph on the beach, Joseph throws a handful of sand in his face and unleashes a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on him. It only ends when Popper's other thugs overwhelm Joeseph through sheer weight of numbers.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Submitting to Popper's clutches because he threatens to kill her father, Aila is physically and sexually abused by Popper as soon as he gets the chance. He also forces her to undergo a Traumatic Haircut and a rough bath when she's in his captivity at the residential school.
  • Indian Maiden: Subverted. Aila is statuesque, beautiful, and wears two long braids; she could easily resemble the popularized fantasy of Native American women. She also is a drug dealer and a graffiti artist; she wears hunting jackets and a gas mask when she sells drugs. Her contrasting appearance, as well as her toughness and ruthlessness, utterly contradict the docile, obedient nature of the trope.
  • Injun Country: The reservation is deep in the Canadian wilderness and almost exclusively populated with tribe members, with only a few white people there as essentially wardens to impose authority over the First Nation citizens.
  • Kill the Cutie: Done in the mere first minutes of the movie.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never made clear if Aila is really speaking to her mother's spirit, or she's just imagining it. Especially since she also has visions of the dead rising as zombies (her mother included), that were either dreams or hallucinations rather than real.
  • Missing Mom: Anna, Aila's mother, kills herself very early in the film after accidentally killing her own son.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Joseph uses a Molotov cocktail to destroy the car his wife was driving when she ran over their son.
  • Nephewism: For separate reasons, Aila's parents are unable to take care of her, so she is raised by her uncle Burner.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Popper, who is blatantly racist and abusive toward First Nations people.
  • Present-Day Past: The majority of the story takes place in 1976, but there's very little period detail in the costumes or art direction.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: As if it weren't enough that Popper was racist, corrupt, and abusive with his power, he's heavily implied to have molested children captive in the residential school and later attempts to rape Aila.
  • Revenge: Aila seeks to get this on Popper and the residential reserve school that essentially imprisoned her.
  • Sadist Teacher: All of the staff at the school, but especially Popper.
  • Spirit Advisor: Anna appears to be this for Aila (though it may be just her imagination).
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Anna is given an unmarked grave because her death was by suicide. Her remains lie in an eerie, dense part of the forest cluttered with other disgraced deaths. Even so, Aila and Joseph visit and pay their respects, clearly missing her deeply.
  • Time Skip: The opening takes place in 1969, then the action skips ahead seven years.
  • Traumatic Haircut: At the residential school, Aila quietly cries as her culturally significant braids are mercilessly sheared off by the nuns.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: As a child, Popper was bullied and beaten up by native boys. He then proceeds to take this out on every First Nation person he can get his hands on (a considerable amount, given that he's an agent of the Canadian Indian Affairs Department), harboring a special hatred for Aila, the daughter of his childhood bully.note