A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wait Till Helen Comes, a 2016 Canadian horror-drama based on the novel of the same name by Mary Downing Hahn, has plenty to scare kids. There's a house haunted by a ghost that lures children to drown themselves, lots of loud and mysteriously shutting doors, swarms of locusts, and a revelation of three fiery deaths long ago. Children who have lost their parents cope with the trauma. Issues of mental illness and suicide are raised. A girl takes swigs from her stepdad's whisky bottle.
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What's the story?
Mix teenage angst and horror and you get WAIT TILL HELEN COMES. Molly (Sophie Nelisse), who is 14, is a traumatized person of substance. She thinks about life and writes thoughtfully in a diary. Yes, she rolls her eyes when her mother (Maria Bello) makes a misstep but she isn't a bad kid. It seems as if psychiatrists and sleep medication have played roles in her life since her father's suicide and she has retreated into isolation to cope with her heartbreak. She and her family -- her younger brother Michael and Mom's new husband Dave (Callum Keith Rennie) -- move into a big old former church (complete with cross) in the middle of nowhere, which dark music warns us is a perfect spot for horror. The fact that Dave's own traumatized young daughter, Heather (Isabele Nelisse), is picked up from an institution to join them at the house is another reminder that eerie things lie ahead. Heather is fragile, still recovering from the death of her mother, which she may have accidentally caused. Of course, the house is haunted, but only Molly and Heather are in the know and, also of course, they tell no adults. Furniture moves on its own. The TV turns itself on. Doors fly open to alarming and loud music. Whispers are heard. A girl tries to drown herself but is saved. A story about a lethal fire more than a century ago and many missing little girls since entrances the the stepsisters until they learn what it all means.
Is it any good?
According to the distributor, this movie is "a scary ghost story for children not allowed at PG-13 and R-rated movies." In other words, it's specifically targeted at a pretty limited audience -- kids under 13. For parents who worry about overexposure to profanity and sex, Wait Till Helen Comes will trigger no alarm bells. However, just because the movie doesn't have cursing or nudity doesn't mean it's right for tweens. Nightmares are likely to be generated by nasty black flying things and ghosts luring children to drown themselves. Caution is urged. This may be too intense for many kids.
Ghost stories are always problematic. Why do the ghosts want to scare people? Why do they kill people? What good does more dead people do them? Don't look for answers here. In this case, a 19th century girl died in an accident and, for generations to come, she keeps drowning other girls, supposedly so she can have company. Are there no other already dead people she can hang out with in the netherworld? Even crazier is that the haunting problem is finally solved when Molly opens a stuck cellar door, freeing the ghost's dead parents' spirits from where they died to rise into the night sky in swirling white mists of scariness. But wait. Ghosts walk through walls, right? How does a measly cellar door hold back any self-respecting spirit? For that matter, how come we don't all regularly see swirling spirits at funerals? At cemeteries? In hospitals? Sigh. The great Maria Bello's talents are wasted here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Molly didn't bother telling her mother that she and her stepsister were seeing a ghost and other supernatural phenomena in Wait Till Helen Comes. Do you think she was worried her mom wouldn't believe her?
Heather's mom died because of a mistake Heather made. Do you think Heather feels guilty? Do you think Heather was put into an institution partly because her dad blamed her for the death?
Do think ghosts live among us? Why or why not?
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