Summer in Pangnirtung—“Pang” to the Inuit locals, an island hamlet located “a million miles from anywhere,” except maybe the Arctic Circle—is peak mischief time for the bored teens who live there... until, as we see in sci-fi tale Slash/Back, a slimy visitor touches down for an invasion vacation.
Directed and co-written by Nyla Innuksuk in her feature debut, Slash/Back has a familiar story structure, following a group of kids who have to step up and defend their homes from a sci-fi menace. There’s also the well-worn “alien appears in isolated place” angle, which the script acknowledges with an overt reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing. What sets Slash/Back apart is its setting—it was shot on location exactly where it takes place, in a remote pocket of Canada’s Nunavut territory—and the way it weaves Inuit culture, including monster lore, into its storytelling.
Slash/Back establishes right from its prologue that Inuit culture emphasizes hunting—as main character Maika (Tasiana Shirley) learns from her father, “in order to survive, we must be knowledgeable and patient.” This lesson proves crucial when Maika, along with friends Jesse (Alexis Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Prusky), and Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), realize that something unusual is happening. A bear lumbers out of the wilderness, moving in an oddly discombobulated manner, oozing black blood, and... shooting tentacles out of its eyes? This freaky phenomenon soon starts affecting humans, and the kids—mostly left to their own devices by their parents and the other adults in town, who are somehow both overprotective and completely checked-out—follow the story beats you’d expect (including a delightful “gathering up all the weapons we can lay our hands on” montage) toward the inevitable showdown. Along the way, Maika in particular learns a valuable lesson about embracing her heritage and being proud of the literally life-saving skills she has learned growing up surrounded by Inuit traditions.
As we build to the big battle, the girls are frequently distracted by their own drama, like who’s being annoying just to get attention, whose little sister is being too much of a tagalong, and who’s getting too close to someone else’s crush. “Can we go back to hunting a blood-sucking alien?” one of them mutters after yet another squabble divides the group. These interactions can slow the plot down, but they feel true to life. On the other hand, while the performers are engaging, the acting is uneven throughout. You can understand why—the Slash/Back kids were apparently actually cast on location, adding even more authenticity to the story—but it’s noticeable enough to work against the movie, especially during any scene in which someone needs to be expressing heightened emotions... which is a lot of the time.
And, not to pile onto a micro-budget movie that was clearly a labor of love, but the special effects used to bring the aliens to life are pretty limited, which you can get a sense of from the image above. (Unfortunately, there’s no Thing-level creature grandiosity here.) That “labor of love” part is what’s most important though—Slash/Back has a lot of heart and good intentions behind it, not to mention a uniquely compelling setting, and it’s impossible not to root for its kick-ass young cast.
Slash/Back arrives November 18 on Shudder.
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