Set in the small arctic hamlet of Pangnirtung, Nunavut on the longest day of the year when the sun doesn’t set for 24 hours, writer-director Nyla Innuksuk’s mines her personal experience to craft a coming-of-age with an alien invasion twist. Co-written with Ryan Cavan, “Slash/Back” follows a group of rebellious teenage girls coming to terms with their own indigenous identities while fighting off mysterious shape-shifting creatures while their parents celebrate the solstice.
At the center of the group is Maika (a sassy Tasiana Shirley), whose internalized shame about her Indigeneity manifests in only replying in English to her parents who speak Inuktitut and turning her nose up at her family’s history as hunters. More interested in getting minutes on her cellphone and an invitation to the cutest boy in school’s party, she neglects her little sister Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe) and gets into a fight with her best friend Uki (the tough-as-nails Nalajoss Ellsworth). When the girls discover the impending alien invasion, Maika learns her community’s traditional survival skills might be the only thing that can save her home.
Shot on location with local crews, cinematographer Guy Godfree captures the brutal Arctic snow with stark contrasts highlighting how truly isolated Pangnirtung is. By combining elements of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” with stories of the Ijiraq, shapeshifting creatures that supposedly kidnap children, Innuksuk reminds us that many popular horror stories also have indigenous roots. While the lo-fi CGI creatures reveal the film’s low budget, it more than makes up for it with some truly gnarly fight sequences in the back half. The girls from Pang seriously kick ass, and I can’t wait to see what Innuksuk does next.
The similarly low budget drama “Soft & Quiet” from writer-director Beth de Araújo tackles its budgetary constraints by keeping locations minimal and a tight ensemble cast. Shot over four days from start to finish to keep the real time feel, the film follows an evening in the life of Emily (an unnerving Stefanie Estes), a kindergarten teacher who is kicking off the first meeting of a white supremiscist group called Daughters of Aryan Unity.
The women of the group run the gamut of white supremiscit rhetoric. Emily is obsessed with getting the respect she feels she deserves as a pure white woman. Mother and store owner Kim (Dana Millican) has no problem dropping the n-word into casual conversation. Recently released from prison, Leslie (a chilling Olivia Luccardi) just wants the stability of a group telling her what to do. Slowly the pleasantries of a typical women’s group devolves into acid-tongued discussions of the superiority of ethnic states over multiculturalism, jobs being stolen by immigrants, the vitures of being feminine over feminist, and more. When the action moves to Kim’s store, an altercation with two mixed-race Asian sisters Lily (Cissy Ly) and Ann (Melissa Paulo), the whole night takes a very dark turn.