Directed by: Nyla Innuksuk
Distributed by: Mongrel Media
Written by Anna Harrison
The most famous (fame being a relative term here) face in “Slash/Back” dies within the first three minutes: Kristian Bruun, most known for his role as Donnie Hendrix in the television show “Orphan Black,” cracks a joke about a glove and then promptly gets his face devoured by an alien. The second most famous face in “Slash/Back,” that of Shaun Benson, who has populated shows like “The Boys” and “Saving Hope,” doesn’t fare much better. The film doesn’t care about these men, it cares about the largely Inuit hamlet of Pangnirtung (notice it’s the two white dudes who go first), where “Slach/Back” was filmed, and four teenaged girls who live there: Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Jesse (Alexis Wolfe), Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), and Leena (Chelsea Prusky). You don’t mess with the girls from Pang.
The plot of “Slash/Back” is not particularly challenging, and you can probably guess where it goes from the opening—the alien (aliens?) goes about infecting various animals and townspeople in Pang on its quest to dominate the world or something, and tries to stick its little tentacles in everything it sees. (There’s also black goo involved.) With most of the adults off at a town dance, it’s up to the girls to protect their home, and while this may not be the most convoluted plot in the world, “Slash/Back” is more concerned with watching the girls react to the world around them than the mechanics of what the alien is and why it landed here, using the scenario to interrogate the characters rather than the other way around.
There’s a certain charm to the way Shirley, Wolfe, Ellsworth, Prusky, and the rest of the young cast (including another Wolfe, Alexis’s sister Frankie) play their characters, but it’s charming in the same way a decent middle school theater production is charming—Shirley is the strongest of the bunch, but even so it’s obvious that the girls are all trying very hard to capital-A Act. The potential is there, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Had director Nyla Innuksuk been going for prestige with “Slash/Back,” this would be a problem, but combined with the film’s schlocky but earnest nature, the performances work in their own bizarre way.
The low-budget approach to the alien works, too. Limited by money, Innuksuk only shows the alien’s strange tentacles when absolutely necessary, instead relying on face masks and physical acting from the infected adults to convey that something has gone wrong. The most expensive moment of the film occurs towards the beginning, when an infected polar bear races towards a young girl, and for the presumably miniscule budget “Slash/Back” has, the bear’s mad dash is remarkably effective. Its joints are out of place, its paws at the wrong angle, and there are injuries all over its body bleeding black blood as it barrels towards Maika’s sister, and while the effect might have been better with some more convincing acting, it’s still surprisingly impressive.
And even with the up-and-down acting, or maybe because of it, “Slash/Back” has a low-key charm and was clearly made with such love that it’s hard to dislike, even if it’s hard to outright love, too. Innuksuk, herself Inuit, tells a science-fiction story set in a town that has never been featured in a film before, starring teenage girls from a group that rarely get to see themselves presented on screen in a way that isn’t reductive, let alone single-handedly fighting off an alien invasion and saving the world. The melding of sci-fi and Inuit culture is a unique one with seamless but strong representation, and Innuksuk’s ambitious debut signals that she’s one to watch out for, even if not everything in “Slach/Back” quite hits the mark.