2 February 2023

Slash/Back

SlashBack

Slash/Back
2022
1h 26m
Directed by Nyla Innuksuk

 

Review by Nyala Ali

 

“Nobody f**cks with the girls from Pang.” This is the tagline for Nyla Innuksuk’s new feature film Slash/Back, which places four tween friends front and center in defending their hometown of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, from an alien invasion. A sci-fi/horror film shot in broad daylight on an indie budget in a remote location with a main cast of previously unknown teen actors is a high-stakes gambit, but Innuksuk channels clever storytelling and her Indigenous culture into a heartfelt, compelling genre film.

 

Slash/Back is the first film to be shot in Pangnirtung (or “Pang,” as the girls call it) and its cinematography presents a gorgeous landscape obviously worthy of protection. Throughout the film, Innuksuk contrasts the eerie Arctic scenery with its close-knit community, while also making clear the long history of Indigenous people’s struggles with invading forces.

 

Notably, the film’s casting process also involved acting workshops for local girls, building both capacity and agency for Indigenous youth to tell their own stories. Although beats in dialogue could be more seamless in a few places, the core group of Gen Z girls remain engaging as a tight-knit clique . Their discussions (which flip between English and subtitled Inuktitut) are lively and funny, including squabbles about boys, and a love-hate relationship with their hometown, and by extension, their culture.

 

On this issue, the girls are particularly split; Maika (Tasiana Shirley) is fed up with historically rooted stereo- types, showing the effects institutional racism and misrepresentation have on the current youth in Pang. On the other hand, feisty Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), whose family life is less stable, clings to her heritage as a source of pride. Uki is also a fantastic storyteller in her own right, regaling her friends with tales of monsters and myth, and shar- ing knowledge passed down through oral tradition.

 

Maika’s dismissal of Uki’s shape- shifter theory as “Inuk nonsense” becomes especially important when the girls must band together to fight the alien invaders. First contact happens during a contraband boat ride to explore some rural islands, and the girls’ joyride ends when a vicious polar bear that “didn’t move right” attacks Maika’s little sister, Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe, in a standout performance). Even without a block- buster budget, Innuksuk’s mutant bear delivers a creepiness on par with the feature creature in Alex Garland’s sci-fi hit, Annihilation.

 

Uki’s theory is proved correct when the aliens later take hold of a white policeman (while smoking, after harassing the local youth for doing the same,) and a local fisherman—both older male figures whose self-imposed authority is replaced with tentacles and hollow-eyed vio- lence, driving the girls to take matters into their own hands.

 

As the film’s soundtrack ratchets up the tension with tracks by The Halluci Nation and Tanya Tagaq, the girls arm themselves with traditional fishing and hunting tools, and sport v-shaped tunniit applied with eyeliner. Not just a cute makeup look, these Inuk facial tattoos signify both womanhood and access to the afterlife. The stakes are high for these girls, and they know it, as they become land defenders who must keep their community safe.

 

Slash/Back has been favourably likened to John Carpenter’s 1982 cult hit, The Thing, which is referenced throughout this film, and Joe Cornish’s 2011 plucky alien-invasion flick, Attack the Block. A more current comparison might be a mashup of the critically acclaimed series Reservation Dogs and paranormal powerhouse Stranger Things, as Innuksuk essentially creates an Indigenous futurist film by blending familiar pop culture elements with Inuk lore and culture. The result is scary fun that highlights resistance and visibility, as four Indigenous girls slash back to ensure their own futures.