Nyla Innuksuk tells a coming-of-age alien invasion story rooted in Inuit culture and legends in her debut feature film, Slash/Back. In Slash/Back, Innuksuk manages to knit together a movie that both pays homage to the “kids on bikes” movies she loved from the 1980s and bursts with pride for her heritage and the land called Pang. While the acting and sound design keep the film from being a standout, viewers rooting for more genre stories made by Indigenous filmmakers will cheer for this humorous horror which shows its heroes kicking ass and having a blast.
It’s the season of 24-hour daylight in the quiet hamlet of Pangnirtung, Nunavut (known as Pang), and school is out for Maika and her group of friends. But the promise of a chill summer with no obligations gets interrupted by an alien invasion. With no reliable adults around to help, it’s up to Maika and her friends to protect their home and their families from impending doom.
The filmscape needs more stories told in which Indigenous people can see themselves represented well, as leading characters, rather than only be supporting characters mainly there to advance another [usually white] person’s story. Nyla Innuksuk has the experience needed to create such characters. She acted as consultant when Marvel Comic’s Jim Zubkavich wanted to create an Inuk character to join the Champions. In fact, Snowguard is a teen girl from Pang, so Nyla is working in familiar territory. The group of teen girlfriends interact with lots of energy and angst. Maika (Tasiana Shirley), the de facto leader of the group, learned how to hunt from her father. Her friends Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolf) and Leena (Chelsea Pruksy) tend to follow Maika’s lead. Then there’s Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), a trickster and renegade at heart. She’s not about to take orders from Maika, causing the two of them to butt heads often.
The love-hate rivalry between Maika and Uki creates one the most entertaining parts of Slash/Back. The girls both have natural leadership skills. Maika has a cool confidence that comes from being a first-born and being left in charge of her younger siblings. She draws people to her naturally. She didn’t ask to be a leader but is put in that role. Then there’s Uki, who is frequently left alone by her family, and answers to no one. Uki has had no one to rely upon and tends to not play well with others. They are similar yet for different reasons. Fueling the rivalry is the different ways they see the world. Maika feels shame for her heritage and thinks about leaving Pang. Uki feels pride and never wants to leave. She knows her strength lies in that community. Nyla’s creation of these characters cleverly represents the complicated feelings many people have towards the land of their birth, regardless of culture.
Unfortunately, the acting doesn’t measure up to the material. The teen actors have a decent amount of charisma and screen presence (especially Shirley and Ellsworth), but they often rushed or mumbled their lines, making it difficult to make out the words. And there was a lack of emotional affect, with words spoken in a flat, dull tone. Now, when the action plays out wordlessly, the girls come to life. Whether the fault lies in sound design or coaching, I was unable to fully enjoy the story.
Apart from the speaking, the rest of the film works well. The girls bike about town, look for ways to pass the time, and enjoy being together. All of the adults are at the annual dance, leaving their children unattended. Of course, when parents are away, the teens want to find an adventure. This creates the perfect classic setup for a horror scenario and an opportunity for the kids to show their muster. And after all, if you were an alien, a remote town like Pang is the perfect ground zero to launch an attack. With unreliable law enforcement and being miles from the nearest town or military base, Pang would be a good place to attack and infiltrate.
Creative touches like title credits that morph from Inuktitut to English and a color palette that brings out the natural beauty of the landscape add to the technical merits of the film. And original score by The Halluci Nation, an electronic hip hop group that writes music to emulate the Electric Pow Wow, pairs perfectly with the action sequences.
While the movie can be experienced as a standard genre picture with blood, guts, and humor, an alien invasion story serves as an analogy for the many times Indigenous people have been invaded and violated by colonization. In this triumphant alternative rendering, the Inuk people, represented by their teens, fight to protect land and people. Armed by their heritage and the strength of community, nothing can stop them. Slash/Back is a love letter from Nyla to the people of Pang and Indigenous people everywhere.
Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW Screening Information:
*Sunday, March 13th, Screening @12:45 pm CT, Alamo Lamar D
*Monday, March 14th, Online Screening @ 9 am CT
*Monday, March 14th, Screening @ 3:45 pm CT, Violet Crown Cinema 1
*Monday, March 14th, Screening @ 4:15 pm CT, Violet Crown Cinema 3
*Thursday, March 17th, Screening @ 6:15 pm CT, Stateside Theatre
For more information, head to the official SXSW webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
EoM contributor Lindsey Dunn spoke with director Nyla Innuksuk and actors Tasiana Shirley and Nalajoss Ellsworth during the SXSW 2022 Film Festival.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming
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