SXSW Movie Review: Slash/Back: The Native Alien Invasion Horror Comedy Is A Freezing Blast

slash/back

It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats; one can only hope that remains the case with the current wave of international horror cinema. This culturally specific mode of storytelling on page and screen has given many communities of color a platform, with a new wave of Indigenous creators entering the horror mainstream.

Writers like Stephen Graham Jones and filmmakers like Jeff Barnaby have rooted their stories in their Indigenous identity – and hopefully Nyla Innuksuk will soon join that company thanks to the success of her alien invasion horror comedy. Slash/back. Located in Pangnirtung – a remote village in the Canadian territory of Nunavut – Slash/back centers on teenage Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her small group of friends. Stuck in the perpetual daylight of the summer solstice, Maika needs a distraction – especially when she grapples with wild child Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) and calm Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), this the latter spending his days pining for the new town boy. So when the group stumbles upon an alien lifeform that takes on the skin of living beings, Maika soon realizes that her wish for more excitement may have gone horribly awry.

There are obvious comparisons between Slash/back and Attack the blockJoe Cornish’s 2011 cult classic. Like its predecessor, Slash/back plays with the sense of isolation – geographic or cultural – that is quietly absorbed by our protagonists from an early age. But Innuksuk’s film also serves as a commentary on Aboriginal identity. Although her father is a respected keeper of Inuit tradition, Maika harbors a series of internalized racism, openly mocking the artwork and iconography found in her friends’ homes. It takes an existential threat to her community to embrace her cultural heritage, but when she does, no alien can stand in her way.

There is also a collectivism Slash/Movie, a sense of interdependence and mutual support that reflects the experience of remote communities. While the movie often plays this for laughs — resolving fights between teenagers who recognize their social options are limited — this approach also elevates the horror elements. Forget the cliched moments of failed self-preservation; Maika and her friends show an innate understanding of how their strengths and weaknesses fit together. During preparations for the final battle, the group sits down to share what they’ve learned about Skins – it’s hard to remember the last time a group of survivors in a horror movie compared their grades.

And despite a reach that sometimes exceeds its grasp — several alien-animal hybrids are sadly just a bit beyond the film’s visual effects budget — Innuksuk and his team aren’t selling the creature elements short. The aliens themselves are a delightful piece of costume design, with each monster wearing the hollow, saggy skin of a character they’ve sucked dry. Part folklore, part Vincent D’Onofrio’s men in blackthese creatures give the film something that many low-budget horror films fail to provide: a memorable monster.

So even taking into account the growing pains that come with a small budget and a cast of unknowns, Slash/back deliver the goods. From a soundtrack by First Nations artists – including a score by award-winning electronic band The Halluci Nation (aka A Tribe Called Red) – and stunning landscape cinematography by Guy Godfree, there’s so much dynamic elements in Slash/Film that cause the film to punch above its weight class. Fingers crossed that this is just the first of many doors opening for Innuksuk and its talented cast.


Slash/back

Narrative feature competition, world premiere

Thursday, March 17, 6:15 p.m. US
Online: March 14, 9am-March 16, 9am

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