“Wait Till Helen Comes” (2017): A Down to Earth Ghost Story

Wait Till Helen Comes  is a indie horror flick based off of Mary Downing Hahn’s 1986 novel of the same name and directed by Dominic James (Angle mort, Die). If follows a family in 1982 that moves to a converted countryside church. The film focuses on 14-year-old daughter Molly (Sophie Nélisse) and her struggle to adjust to her step sister Heather (Isabelle Nélisse),  as well as the new locale. Wait Till Helen Comes offers a unique ghost story that deals with worldly themes, and is masterfully shot.

A family, mother Jean (Maria Bello) and her children Michael (William Dickinson) and Molly, as well as new husband Dave (Callum Keith Rennie), and his daughter Heather, move from Baltimore to remote converted church in the country. Molly, the eldest of the children, does not initially adjust well to her new life. She misses Baltimore, and doesn’t get along well with step sister Heather.

When Heather begins speaking of a ghost, Helen (Abigail Pniowsky), most including Molly dismiss this as childhood fantasy. But eventually Molly begins to believe, and see, Helen, prompting a quest to uncover the ghostly origins.

As a ghost story, Wait Till Helen Comes treads into admittedly familiar territory. There’s the family moving into a new house trope as seen in everything from The Amityville Horror to most James Wan flicks such as Insidious and The Conjuring. Dave is a writer, which sort of evokes a Jack Torrance vibe albeit only insofar as he’s an author. Unlike Torrance, Dave is not the main villain.

Yet despite certain formulaic elements, Wait Till Helen Comes remains fresh. It departs from the traditional horror flick in that it’s mostly psychological. The pacing of Wait Till Helen Comes is fairly methodical. That’s not to say it’s boring, as it’s quite engaging. But the film takes its time setting up the story. As the narrative progresses, it delves into an investigative tale. It’s framed through a child’s perspective, as Molly stands as the protagonist. It’s her journal entries Wait Till Helen Comes as well as research with Michael, and Heather’s relationship with the ghost of Helen drive the film forward.

Further, as horror films go, Wait Till Helen Comes is fairly safe. Yes, it’s suspenseful and features some horror imagery. Yet it’s rather toned down. There’s no gore, cursing, or more traditional mature themes. However Wait Till Helen Comes derives its maturity from weighty issues of depression and suicide. While both Heather and Molly do see the ghost of Helen, it’s events in their pasts that posit the true ghost that haunt.

Wait Till Helen Comes is exquisitely shot. The church-turned-house interior evokes a true late 70s-early 80s vibe with its furnishings. Costumes include lots of ripped jeans, flannel, and baseball tees for Molly, and a vest a la Stranger Things for Michael. There’s a retro-modern lacquer over the entire film making it pretty to watch. Notably, the woods ooze an eerie luminescent Fall aesthetic.

Although Wait Till Helen Comes is fairly unique, comparisons to past genre films are unavoidable. The set up is rather formulaic, with similarities to the likes of A Haunting in Connecticut to The Exorcist. Additionally, the CGI for Helen is a bit lacking. Thankfully, it’s sparsely used. But it’s another reminder of the brilliance and magic found in practical effects. While some horror aficionados might scoff at the lack of gore or common horror staples, suspense and spirit haunting not included, this is part of what helps Wait Till Helen Comes appear so extraordinary.

Wait Till Helen Comes provides a fresh take on haunting stories. While it might prominently feature a formula, its reliance on suspense and onus on more down to earth themes of depression and suicide lend if a fresh take. Inspired performances, particularly from the children, make Wait Till Helen Comes a highly enjoyable, distinctive, suspenseful ghost story.

Wait Till Helen Comes 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Moe Long