SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Inuk writer/director Nyla Innuksuk’s thunderous debut Slash/Back features a group of Nunavut teenage girls fighting off an invasion of blood-drinking aliens. The girls live in Pangnirtung, a tiny island village in arctic Canada, described in subtitles as being a million miles away from anyplace. 14-year-old Maika (Tasiana Shirley) is sick of Pangnirtung and its lack of modern amenities. Her buddy Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) thinks the town is awesome and is deep into the Inuit culture, passed down by the older people’s stories. Maika is tired of tradition and wants to move one day, dreaming of eating fried chicken in faraway Winnipeg. Their friend, Leena (Chelsea Prusky), gets to go to Winnipeg every year as her family is one of the most affluent in town. Jesse (Alexis Wolfe), whose world revolves around the boy she is crushing on, rounds out the crew.
Bored with the hamlet they can ride their bikes across in five minutes, the girls take a boat off the island. They don’t know that Maika’s 8-year-old sister, Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe), secretly followed them on her bike. While target practicing with Maika’s dad’s gun, the girls see a polar bear in the distance acting strange. Uki grabs the gun and blasts it, but the animal rises and charges at the girls, not acting right at all. The bear jumps on little Aju, and they shoot at it again, barely getting away. After they leave, an oozing tendril with a claw at the end rises from the polar bear’s eye.
“…the aliens start wearing human skins and begin to close in.”
Uki is convinced the bear was an Ijiraq, a shape-shifting monster from Inuit legends. She goes back to where they found it on a dare while the girls go to a party at the house of the boy Jesse likes. Uki discovers the strange acting animals are aliens that drink the blood and wear the skins of other beings. She runs back to sound the alarm, but all the adults are gone to the solstice square dance at the community hall. Now, the girls are in trouble, as the aliens start wearing human skins and begin to close in. With no adults to come to the rescue, humanity’s only hope is a handful of teenagers.
Slash/Back initially drew me in as an example of indigenous representation as well as female empowerment. Add to that the rarity of an Inuk-produced feature from the arctic, and we already have a project worth seeking. However, it is difficult to emphasize the importance of representation when you are surfing on a golden wave of popcorn butter. The film is not just important but also entertaining to the core. Her first feature shows Innuksuk is already a master filmmaker who has made a kick-a*s genre picture with dead-on horror instincts.
"…refreshing to see teens playing teens..."
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