Horror Advice: If you notice that a younger sibling has an imaginary friend — one they talk to incessantly — there is a good chance that this supposedly imaginary friend is actually a vengeful spirit out to destroy your family, and you should be calling the local priest. Adapted from the book by Mary Downing Hahn, “Wait Till Helen Comes” tells the story of two separate families – both reeling from each of their own personal tragedies – who come together as they adjust to life in an old converted church. Oh, and there is the ghost of a little girl who lures other young girls to their deaths, so as not to be alone. This is a pretty standard horror movie fare – ghostly messages appearing on bathroom mirrors and strange whisperings in the dark are just two of the many horror clichés that pop up in this movie – but director Dominic James manages to inject enough atmospheric mood and mystery to make it a serviceable entry into the horror genre, especially for younger audiences.
The film’s protagonist – and erstwhile narrator – is a teenage girl named Molly (Sophie Nélisse), who, along with her younger brother Michael (William Dickinson) and mother Jean (Maria Bello), has moved into a converted church with her new stepfather (Callum Keith Rennie) and his little girl Heather (Isabelle Nélisse). Molly isn’t keen on suddenly being the big sister to this weird little girl – whose mother tragically died in a fire – as she herself is still getting over the death of her own father, who committed suicide. Stepfather Dave is a struggling writer – horror trope #106 – so he has no time to look after kids, and even Molly’s own mother doesn’t seem to have much time for them, other than to give late night consoling talks, that are about as helpful as a hankie in a hurricane. This leaves it up to Molly alone to deal with Heather’s mysterious ghostly friend – who hangs out in the woods by the burnt out husk of an old home – as even Molly’s nerdy brother doesn’t believe her at first.
There certainly isn’t anything earth-shatteringly original to be found in Wait Till Helen Comes – televisions will turn on by themselves and furniture will move around on their own, as expected – but cinematographer Rene Ohashi perfectly utilizes the cold and bleak Winnipeg locations to build a feeling of inescapable dread. The cast all give credible performances – especially real-life siblings Sophie and Isabelle Nélisse, who are quite good as two loggerheads over a ghost – and Maria Bello does the best she can with the thankless role of the beleaguered mother. The ghostly mystery itself reminded me a little of the Disney film Child of Glass, only here things get a bit darker as suicide and mental illness become key elements.
The one element that really fell short was the ghost itself; when we first see the apparition of Helen (Abigail Pniowsky), it is as a translucent optical effect that is never quite convincing as a ghost. The film would have been better off keeping the appearances of Helen to a minimum, but that aside, the supernatural elements hold up rather well – cool dream sequences and creepy flocks of birds make up some nice moments – and overall, Wait Till Helen Comes could work as a nice introduction for young viewers to the horror genre. There is no gore, and even with the darker elements – which got the book banned in schools back in the day – there is nothing to traumatize any but the most sensitive of kids.
Wait Till Helen Comes may not bring anything new to the genre – being based on a young readers book from the 80s that is to be expected – but there is still enough good stuff on display for me to recommend it, especially if you have kids who want a little scare … just not too scary.
More Horror Advice:
• Do not move into a converted church. Just don’t.
• A graveyard on your property is not a selling point.
• If the locals talk about girls routinely going missing do not be surprised if yours goes missing as well.
• Neighbouring ruins with a backstory of death and tragedy is going to be lousy with ghosts.