Slash/Back is Game but Sadly Unconvincing

Though it wastes no time invoking the specter of John Carpenter’s The Thing, the shadow that looms largest over this alien attack movie is Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, where can-do spirit and a cast of stars in the making sent a force of ravening aliens packing and proved a smash sleeper hit. With its near identical premise—transposing the action from a ‘Sauf London’ council estate to a remote Inuk fishing village—Slash/Back may aspire to similar narrative and commercial goals, but it would be generous to say it doesn’t quite achieve them. Sadly, like They/Them before it, the title pun is sadly the cleverest part of Slash/Back.

Maika (Tasiana Shirley) lies in wait with her rifle

The premise is familiar, yet compelling genre material: a gang of girls, Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Jesse (Alexis Wolfe), Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), Leena (Chelsea Prusky), and Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe), step up to defend their hometown when they inadvertently invoke the ire of parasitic aliens that have been body-snatching local wildlife—including, in the film’s one genuinely hair-raising scene, a polar bear—and residents.

One might expect the biggest setback for a low-budget film like this to be in the effects, but although they’re hardly stellar, the visual effects aren’t too bad and with some more effective lighting and framing might even have been impressively passable. The aforementioned polar bear scene is memorable and kind of unsettling in a way that put me in mind of the earlier stages of Shin Godzilla, where the titular titan takes on a half-formed stage that looks and moves in a way that’s so uncannily wrong on every level it can’t help but be creepy. The body-snatched humans are surprisingly solid work too, with little more than a rubber mask and some impressive contortion, they manage to be both creepy and giddily hilarious. I’d also commend the score by Michael Brook and The Halluci Nation, whose vocal work brings a distinctively youthful and brash take on Inuit folk singing traditions and gives the film a lot of unique character.

The girls of "Pang" hide in a storage container (Chelsea Prusky, Frankie Vincent Wolfe, Alexis Wolfe, Nalajoss Ellsworth and Tasiana Shirley)
No, sadly the issues with Slash/Back are more fundamental. Though the editing does some odd things to the pacing, there are some set pieces that are a bit half-baked and the lighting is disappointingly pedestrian throughout, the real problem with Slash/Back is, and I feel really bad for saying it—the acting.

Using a young cast, none of whom have acted onscreen before (from what I can find) was a bold move that prioritized integrity and naturalism over caution and I don’t at all blame the cast, who I’m sure all did their best and would’ve benefitted greatly from more coaching. But the performances were, to very slightly varying degrees, extremely wooden and awkward. Perhaps on the set, they captured a sense of naturalism that was considered desirable, but these performances do not work on film and nowhere conveyed a single credible emotion, sense of comedic timing, or jeopardy.

This, combined with the script establishing early on that none of the young characters were in any real danger—by having a small child get mauled by a polar bear for several seconds and just walk it off—quickly sapped the film of any real tension. The film does establish a coherent and even compelling dynamic between the characters, with differences not just in personality and temperament, but in economic and social status, mobility, relationship to their heritage and families, and conflict in the shape of an unresolved love-triangle subplot. There’s even a possibly lighthearted but potentially quite dark suggestion of community alcoholism where the kids are forced to fend for themselves because their parents are all “drunk by now,” but these ideas are all hard to see realized when the onscreen execution is so unconvincing.

Though it debuts on Shudder this month, an exciting platform for a film like this, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Slash/Back‘s future. Sadly the lack of industry backing for Inuk filmmaking is evident, where even a film with as much commercial potential as this would have promised at its script stage—the writing is genuinely pretty solid from front to back—isn’t handed the budget to do itself justice. I would’ve absolutely loved to champion this as a true discovery, or even a low-budget diamond in the rough, but the consistently wonky acting and flat, uninteresting cinematography that fails to capitalize on either the stunning local vistas or perpetual midday sun, leave Slash/Back feeling more like a proof of concept film than the finished article.

I hope someday soon an indie studio gives Nyla Innuksuk and women like her the resources to light the screen on fire because Inuk culture deserves a louder and less ignorable voice on cinema’s stage than this. It’s an endearing concept and films that get made even when it clearly wasn’t easy speak of a passion for the project and motivation that far exceeds the average. I hope the investment Innuksuk, her cast, and her crew put into Slash/Back is rewarded and if nothing else, that they’re as proud of making this film as they should be.

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  1. There is something uniquely Western about a critic criticising Inuit for being “wooden” in their affect, perhaps next time you might do a modicum of research about the culture you profess to want to see “light the screen on fire,” before you apply Western standards of performance to an Indigenous culture with its own unique sense of decorum and public behavior.

    Is this review really all we can expect from journalistic art criticism?

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Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory, and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account. Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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