SXSW 2022: Slash/Back Review
Nyla Innuksuk’s Slash/Back is an innovative spin on the alien invasion film. It’s imbued with Inuit folklore and a smart transplanting of what it means to have your way of life suddenly at risk of disappearing thanks to unknown, external forces. Led by its resilient teenage characters as their hometown becomes threatened by colonization in broad daylight, Slash/Back finds more interesting angles to take on a tried-and-true genre that overcome the film’s rough edges.
There are very few films set in the northern territories of Canada – let alone Pangnirtung, Nunavut. However, in this hamlet four teenage girls have their friendship tested when a chance encounter with a disfigured polar bear quickly uncovers an impending alien invasion aimed directly at their small village. Harvesting the blood of living creatures, these aliens not only crave blood – they also take the shape of victims, but in a much more terrifyingly malleable form seemingly devoid of joints and bones.
Films often don’t center around Inuit culture, but what makes Slash/Back fascinating is that it leans into it fully. Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her group of friends find themselves cribbing from Inuit folklore and horror movies in equal measure to fend off the aliens. Their reason for invading isn’t presented; all that matters is that it’s up to the teenage girls of Pang to protect their village at all costs.
Innuksuk herself is from Igloolik, Nunavut and the teenage girls themselves are from Nunavut as well. Behind-the-scenes there are artists like Tanya Tagaq, a Nunavut-born artist whose throat singing is peppered throughout the more epic action beats of Slash/Back alongside First Nations electronic group, The Halluci Nation (formerly known as A Tribe Called Red). These decisions to incorporate so many First Nations and Inuit collaborators on the project result in a film that wears its identity on its sleeve and in its heart.
A film clearly made from passion that takes its alien invasion conceit and injects it with vitality through its parallels to colonization. Maika serves as an example of someone who can’t wait to leave her home village and frequently scoffs at her heritage. That willingness to shed her culture is at odds with many others in Pangnirtung – most notably with Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), one of Maika’s friends who first begins realizing the connection between the aliens and the stories she was told growing up about shapeshifters. That confrontation between wanting to distance yourself from your heritage to being resigned to accepting its loss due to someone else’s decision is at the heart of Slash/Back’s themes.
The rough edges are so minor throughout the film that they’re almost not worth mentioning. The film taking place entirely during daylight (another clever subversion of horror films that is fitting for the setting) results in the generally impressive and terrifying alien special effects looking occasionally cheap. The Halluci Nation contributions to the score can sometimes overpower the film and the dialogue ends up poorly mixed to the point where the two audio sources are competing. These combined with some sub-standard acting and stilted line deliveries from young actors making their film debuts don’t lessen the film’s impact but they do distract every now and then.
However, for a feature length debut, Innuksuk’s Slash/Back is entrancing. The horror elements work particularly well and the way the aliens move with precision results in terrifying sequences. The clever incorporation of broad daylight strengthens the film’s acknowledgement of colonization happening in front of our very eyes, and ultimately results in a movie that does far more than many alien invasion films nowadays. There’s a heart to it that is usually absent and marks Nyla Innuksuk as one of the Canadian directors to keep an eye on.
- Christopher Cross