Most horror movies take place in the dark but the spunky, microbudgeted “Slash/Back,” a new coming-of-age alien invasion movie now playing in theatres, is unique. Set in Pangnirtung, a remote fishing community in Nunavut, the action happens under the relentless glare of twenty-four-hour summer solstice sunlight.
The main action kicks off as the rebellious Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and friends, Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Pruksy) and Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), hijack a boat and set off to explore some local sun dappled scenery. Instead of the beauty of nature, they are confronted by a polar bear, but not just any polar bear. Big and bloodthirsty, it attacks Maika’s younger sister Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wilfe) before Uki takes a shot at the beast, scaring it off, but not before it sprouts eel-like tentacles.
The friends quickly assume the polar bear was actually a shape shifting Ijiraq, an evil creature of folklore, who can appear in many different forms. Or is it an alien? Or both?
Whatever it is, it’s bad.
To protect their community, the friends take up ulu knives, machetes and even the odd hockey stick, combined with innate courage, a deep understanding of horror films and traditional knowledge gleaned from Maika’s father, who used to be the town’s greatest hunter, to save the people and place they love. “Nobody f***s with the girls from Pang,” is their battle cry.
“Slash/Back” evokes memories of “Attack the Block,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing,” with a dash of ”Super Eight,” for good measure, and yet manages to do something unique. It works as a coming-of-age story with sci fi overtones, but it’s the characters and the location that sets it apart. Mixing an exploration of Indigenous identity and culture with badass kids summoning all their ability to protect their community deepens the story, adding layers of subtext to a familiar-ish action story.
The cast brings more charm than acting chops, but each brings something special. From Maika’s “No Justice on Stolen Land” slogan splashed across the back of her leather jacket to the quiet and lovelorn Jesse, the characters are easy to root for and, above all, authentic.
Director Nyla Innuksuk’s “Slash/Back” is a clever, lo fi genre movie, that is equal parts social commentary, charm and scares.