Slash/Back not only took me someplace new, it took me someplace I didn't know existed. Pangnirtung is a tiny hamlet in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Its citizens, for whom hunting and fishing are a part of daily life, are mostly Inuit. “Pang,” as it's known, is just about the last place you'd expect an alien invasion to occur, which is part of what makes this movie so much fun. A sci-fi thriller in the same vein as Attack the Block, the film has a few rough edges, yet is made with such enthusiasm and earnestness that it thoroughly charms you.
Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her friends – Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Pruksy) and Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) – are enjoying summer vacation. There isn't a whole lot to do on Pang, but they make their own entertainment, riding bikes, talking about boys, and going out into the tundra away from the village's center. Since the sun never sets, they have constant daylight to play in. A weird spacecraft has parked itself in the tundra, though. Alien creatures first take over several animals, then two human beings. In their disguises, they walk in crooked motion. Tentacles shoot out of their eyes as they get close to their prey. The girls discover what's going on and, with all the adults at the annual village dance, attempt to rid Pang of this extra-terrestrial menace.
Aside from the novel location, two things help Slash/Back succeed. One is nicely restrained use of creature effects. The CGI utilized to make the wobbly possessed animals and the menacing tentacles doesn't go too far out. Instead of creating big digital spectacles, the visuals are employed only to the degree that they need to be. That has the impact of making the story feel grounded. If the movie was trying to dazzle us with elaborate CGI every five seconds, we wouldn't see anything else because the artificiality would be glaring. By keeping the computer-generated stuff to a minimum, there's greater impact when it is shown.
The other, and far more significant, key to success is the casting. Director Nyla Innuksuk found local indigenous teens with no prior acting experience to fill the roles, and she could not have done a better job. From top to bottom, these four new actresses display tons of personality and charisma. Together, they create a believable bond between their characters. I suspect each girl brings a little of herself to her role, allowing Slash/Back to achieve a sense of authenticity that's fun to revel in. Through them, I felt like I learned about the lifestyle and perspective of young people in Pangnirtung.
Although it doesn't beat you over the head with a message, there's no doubt the film is working not just as a sci-fi adventure but also as a commentary on the threats indigenous people have long faced. It's hardly a coincidence that one character wears a jacket with the words “No Justice on Stolen Land” printed on the back. Putting a thread of commentary into the picture adds another layer of interest. Slash/Back doesn't redefine the genre. It does, however, introduce enough fresh elements to keep you invested for the duration of its breezy 87-minute running time.
out of four
Slash/Back is unrated, but contains graphic violence, brief strong language, and a short scene of drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.