Offering representation not often seen onscreen, director and co-writer Nyla Innuksuk‘s “Slash/Back” is a feminist sci-fi horror film about a group of girlfriends who must fight together to save their small town from monsters from another planet. It’s a story that’s reminiscent of “The Thing” and “Attack the Block,” but with a setting that gives a glimpse of Indigenous cultures in Canada and starring young girls as the film’s heroes, there’s so much about this project that feels fresh and different.
Set on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean, the film tells the story of a group of girls (Tasiana Shirley, Nalajoss Ellsworth, Chelsea Prusky, and Alexis Wolfe) who are enjoying their summer (and days of 24-hour sunlight) as best they can. There’s not much to do in their sleepy hamlet of Pangnirtung, and rarely does anything exciting happen around here. All of that changes when the girls witness some very strange wildlife behavior, eventually discovering that an alien invasion is threatening their hometown. With all of the town’s adults out getting drunk at the annual solstice dance, these young women are on their own and must rely on their collective smarts, hunting training, and horror movie knowledge to defeat their attackers.
It’s a charming, character-driven story of friendship that’s told from the point of view of Inuit teenage girls. The characters (and cast of non-actors) are extremely likeable, and it’s easy to love being in the company of these young women. Cultural pride and customs are woven into the film, as are some weighty themes like the unfortunate reality of some of the characters being ashamed of their heritage. It’s interesting and unique, just like the film’s setting.
The isolated locale is a great match for the story, as it’s a desolate (and therefore naturally spooky) place where polar bears roam the wilds and the land seems to stretch into infinity. If you grew up in a small town, the characters and their surroundings are easy to relate to, and there’s a sense of restlessness that adds to the film’s overall atmosphere.
Innuksuk is excellent at balancing her friendship tale with traditional monster horror. Utilizing practical effects that lend a vintage, 80s-retro charm, the tentacled aliens are just the right amount of scary and fun. Some of it feels outdated and silly (the CGI is low budget and looks like it), but there’s a lot of joy to be had in watching these resourceful, brave, and strong young women open up a can of whoop ass on the malevolent invaders.
“Slash/Back” is a scrappy, spunky story that recognizes and celebrates girl power. It’s a terrific step forward in terms of onscreen representation of Indigenous people, and it’s a film that is as entertaining as it is unique.
By: Louisa Moore