The township of Pangnirtung on the eastern tip of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, caught between the cold sea and the snowy mountains on the edge of the Arctic Circle, where hunting is a way of life and the prospects are slim and the adults spend their nights drinking and their disillusioned children wish for something different, a change to break the pattern and offer something new.
For teenage Maika and her friends, that comes the day they steal the boat to go exploring and are attacked by a polar bear whose unnatural behaviour indicates it was already suffering from a strange malady, struggling to walk and overly aggressive, saved only when Uki grabs the rifle and saves Aju from being mauled, but the infecting organism is already taking hold in their insular community.
The feature debut of Nyla Innuksuk from a screenplay co-written with Ryan Cavan, Slash/Back is a mish-mash of science fiction, horror, coming-of-age and awareness raising of the lives of the marginalised Inuit people of the area, fighting hostility and indifference from those who displaced them from their wider territories and now an invasion of blood-sucking alien parasites.
Filmed entirely on location, the landscapes are breathtaking but bleak, occupied by the sinister intruder which wears the skin of the body from which it has most recently fed, unconvincing at close range but sufficient to bring it near to attack, the girls from Pang on their own with the adults occupied and inebriated at the celebrations of the solstice, accustomed to dismissing the pleas of their children.
Starring Tasiana Shirley, Alexis Wolfe, Nalajoss Ellsworth, Chelsea Prusky and Frankie Vincent-Wolfe as Maika, Jesse, Uki, Leena and Aju, all newcomers cast from the local population, their performances are adequate but uneven, rising to the occasion when circumstances demand it but often poorly served by the meandering script which has them talking about the cutest boy in school as much as the possibility of their imminent deaths.
The mimicry of the tentacled monster recalling The Thing, its awkward bent-limbed movement uncanny and disturbing, Slash/Back is admirable for its intentions and the championing of its young cast but lacks urgency, and playing like Grabbers produced via the Children’s Film Foundation it feels underdeveloped and facile, particularly in the disappointing resolution, aiming for cool and empowering but never mastering the necessary pose and swagger.
Slash/Back will be available on Shudder from Friday 18th November