Shot in and around the remote fishing village of Pangnirtung near the arctic circle, Nyla Innuksuk’s debut feature Slash/Back opens with a researcher taking permafrost samples discovering a smoking hole in the tundra. His research into it is cut short when a tentacle reaches out and attacks him. Stuck in a town so small and remote that even Walmart won’t open a store there, the girls “borrow” a boat and cruise out to a remote cabin to hang out. But when a strange-looking polar bear attacks Aju things take a turn for the worse.
It might not be The Thing, but body-jumping aliens are back in the frozen north. And it’s up to a group of Indigenous girls, Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Pruksy, Anaana’s Tent), Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) and Maika’s tag-along little sister Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe) to stop them.
Actually the first thing I noticed about Slash/Back had nothing to do with the story per se. It was the incredible beauty of the Nunavut landscape and the way Guy Godfree’s (Wildhood, Plus One) cinematography contrasts it with the town. Pangnirtung is a collection of prefabbed homes and trailers that looks like a blight on the landscape. Man is as much an outsider here as the aliens are.
Getting down to Slash/Back’s plot, it’s a pretty basic one. Aliens land and take over some of the local animals before spreading to the humans. As far back as 1955, Roger Corman was using this plot in The Beast with a Million Eyes and it’s long since become a genre staple. We even get a scene where they debate if it’s an alien or an Ijiraq from local folklore in place of the more usual comparison to a demon or other entity from Christian folklore.
Pangnirtung and its villagers give the film a bit of a different feel than the typical body snatcher film, just as the reservation settings of Don’t Say its Name and Blood Quantum helped them differentiate themselves from other monster and zombie films. And all of those films were directed by members of the tribes depicted and gave an authentic portrait of the people, rather than the more usual generic “Hollywood Indian”.
Also helping set Slash/Back apart is the fact it all happens in the bright sunlight. It’s set on the Summer Solstice, and a village dance to celebrate it provides a convenient excuse to get the adults out of the picture and let the kids fight the invaders. Which they do, complete with ceremonial face paints and a few traditional hunting tools like a harpoon converted into weapons.
Slash/Back is aimed at a younger audience but still delivers a few doses of gore but keeps it off-screen when humans are the victims. When it comes to those possessed by the aliens however there are decapitations and a look at a severed head. However, their black blood and altered anatomy mean they won’t be too disturbing to the film’s intended audience.
The effects vary in quality with the CGI for the alien ship, possessed animals and what we see of the aliens themselves ranging from good to obviously faked. The possessed humans are described as looking rubbery and they do tend to look like they’re wearing rubber masks. The decapitations are fairly good although black CGI blood spray looks just as bad as the usual red stuff.
Slash/Back should give its target audience a few good scares and is an agreeable watch for older viewers as well. It has a few things to say about life in towns like this, but it’s worked into the story, adding some depth to it, not shoved in the viewer’s face. Its main aim is to entertain, and it does that well, the girls from Pang do indeed kick ass.
Mongrel Media has released Slash/Back in several Canadian cities as well as VOD and Digital platforms. You can check their website and Facebook page for more information. And if you’re looking for more of the same, FilmTagger has a few ideas.