If you see just one Inuit kids fend off tentacled alien invaders thriller this year, make it “Slash/Back,” an above-the-Arctic Circle genre pic in the “Attack the Block” tradition.
It’s a more good-natured-than-good Canadian production about a village beset by beasties, and the ones who figure this out first and take defending Pangnirtung seriously are a bunch of 13 year-old girls.
“They came here to hunt! But what they don’t know is, we’re the best hunters there is (sic)!”
There are funny lines and oodles of generic fight-the-aliens stand-offs. But the (mostly locally recruited) acting is pretty bad. None of the kids manages to summon up “fear” on cue, and the line-readings are so flat that they drain the blood out of almost every zinger in this Nyla Innuksuk sci-fi action comedy.
Maika (Tasiana Shirley) is the leader of the pack in this corner of the Cumberland Peninsula. She keeps Jesse and Leena (Alexis Wolfe, Chelsea Prusky) hoping that they have a shot with the “hottest boy in school,” because Maika’s not interested. And she keeps mouthy, hustling braggart Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) honest when she tries to con Aya (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe), Maika’s pesky tag-along kid sister out of her savings.
Maika is the most jaded about their lives and this insular world. Sure, they have cellphones and they’re as obsessed with how much fun and stuff other kids their age have, thanks to social media. But to Maika and her mates, “Pang” is “Craphole, population ‘Who cares?’” Maika dogs on the “drunk” adults and the limited horizons in the Land of the Midnight Sun, even on Inuit art.
She can’t wait to “move to Winnipeg.” Hey Maika, been there, done that, had the Chinese food, Molson’s and jelly donuts. Heard the Neil Young/Randy Bachman tribute bands. Aim higher, girl!
But in the opening scene, we’ve seen a white geologist grabbed and gutted. Arterial spray on snow, nothing like it. Something is out there. And when the girls take off on a jaunt in Maika’s dad’s boat, they get a load of that “something” first hand. A (digitally) possessed polar bear comes for them. But “It didn’t move right…and its blood was black!”
And those things coming out of its eyes? Tentacles.
Not that they see all of that. Not that they believe the one member of their quartet who did.
It’s only later that (still sunny) night that the rest of them get a clue, and have to take action lest the entire village, population 1481, is slaughtered. Every minute, the body count is rising.
This film has the potential to have a whiff of “Smoke Signals” and “Reservation Dogs” Native Deadpan about it thanks to the setting and the alien (ahem) culture it ventures into.
There’s a smattering of Inuit dialect and words — Ijiraq is one of the words for “shape shifter” in their mythology.
And Maika, the Inuit girl kid down on her culture — “Only dumb Inuit fall for that!” — has a righteous story arc to play out, from jaded cynic to someone who appreciates her people and what they know and how it could give them the edge against the aliens.
Just as in “Attack the Block,” or “Thirty Days of Night” or the August sleeper hit “Prey.”
The dialogue is tween-to-teen sassy in that “As if” sort of way. Lee Lee’s ex-boyfriend, for instance, gave her “the worst two days of my life.”
But every line is as flat as the one that preceded it, every joke is either swallowed in mumbled enunciation (not an accent thing, a “Let’s do another take so my joke lands, girls” problem).
These beasts, which they nickname “skins” because their tentacles are literally getting under human’s skin (a nice effect, better than the alien-possessed bears, etc), may want to “get us right in the Bs (breasts) and Vs (vaginas).”
But the line isn’t funny at all if you don’t hit it right. Why didn’t we get retakes? It’s not like “we’re losing daylight.” Because the sun doesn’t go down (my lived-in-Alaska expertise) in hte summer that far north, does it?
“I’m scared why because this is frickin’ scary” is funny when you don’t say it in a monotone.
The picture comes to a complete, exhausted halt for about 20 minutes before the third act’s Big Finish, which isn’t actually “big.”
Sorry to dog on the movie the way Maika dogs on Inuit “fish pictures,” but “Slash/Back” never overcomes its scene after scene, joke after joke “near miss” status. You might be rooting for it at the end as fervently as you were at the promising beginning. But by then, it’s already disappointed, with far too many punchless punchlines for its own good.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Tasiana Shirley, Alexis Wolfe, Nalajoss Ellsworth, Chelsea Prusky and Frankie Vincent-Wolfe
Credits: Directed by Nyla Innuksuk, scripted by Ryan Cavan and Nyla Innuksuk. An RLJE film on Shudder!
Running time: 1:27