'Slash/Back' Brings an Alien Invasion to Nunavut, with Entertaining Results

Directed by Nyla Innuksuk

Starring Tasiana Shirley, Alexis Vincent-Wolfe, Nalajoss Ellsworth, Chelsea Prusky, Frankie Vincent-Wolfe, Rory Anawak

Courtesy of Mixtape SB Productions Inc

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 24, 2022

Think Attack the Block, but instead of an alien invasion in a council estate in London, it's in a hamlet called Pangnirtung on Baffin Island, NU. And instead of a ragtag group of street wise Londoners, we've got a group of 14-year-old Inuit girls who have great hunting skills and an innate knowledge of the land. What you get is an ambitious and entertaining sci-fi thriller that shows off Nunavut in a way no widely released film has before. 

It's the long days of summer in the sleepy hamlet — 24-hour sunlight, no school and not much else to do. Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her best friends — Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Pruksy) and Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) — decide to take Maika's father's boat out for a spin, without permission of course. When they get to the tundra, as the girls are scrolling through Instagram and gossiping about likes and comments, a deformed-looking polar bear comes into view. Uki grabs Maika's rifle and fires at the bear, which only agitates the creature. The girls ultimately take down the bear, but not before it attacks Maika's little sister Aju (Frankie Vincent-Wolfe), who had been keen to join the girls and had followed them on her bicycle, unbeknownst to them. 

Though unharmed, Aju is covered in a thick, black, blood-like substance, leading Uki to believe that the bear is actually an alien that's taken over the bear using its skin as a suit. As the girls frantically return back home, they inadvertently lead the creature to their community. With all the adults preoccupied with the community square dance, it's up to the girls to take down this intruder lest it take over the town.

Slash/Back is the directorial feature debut of Igloolik-born, Iqaluit-raised Nyla Innuksuk, who wastes no time in showing off the beautiful fjords and mountains of her home territory. Using the constant daylight to her advantage, Slash/Back is a beautifully shot film that nicely mixes the grounded nature of Nunavut with the zombie-like infected creatures.

Slash/Back's actors are primarily young, first-time actors from Iqaluit. Their performances are very raw in some instances, which can be chalked up to their inexperience, but overall, they deliver good performances. Shirley, in particular, has a natural charisma that translates well to the screen, and Ellsworth shows a lot of energy and is clearly having a ball playing the scrappy Uki. 

The greatest strength of Slash/Back is its script. Innuksuk authentically highlights the preteen experience of young girls, specifically those living in Nunavut's quiet hamlets. She doesn't simply rest on stereotypes and tropes of what we may expect from these characters. Rather, she takes Maika's deep knowledge and skills passed down from her father and contrasts this with a juvenile shame in her Indigeneity. Innuksuk creates a character like Leena who doesn't have any interest in hunting — and not because of any rebellion against her culture, it's just not her thing. 

Innuksuk gives her texture to her story and characters, where lesser filmmakers would instead concentrate on the alien attack. In Slash/Back, the extraordinary nature of their situation is secondary to Maika and her crew. Their focus is on the house party of a boy Maika and Jesse have their eye on, and on the one-upmanship nature of Maika and Uki's relationship. 

There are times that the film meanders and the pacing feels choppy and halting, and the limited budget means that the CGI of the alien creatures can pull viewers out of the film. But there's no denying the promise and potential of Innuksuk as a director and writer. 

Slash/Back is an incredibly ambitious movie that incorporates nuanced themes effortlessly and to great avail. It's a refreshing coming-of-age story that doesn't patronize and will leave audiences with the solid knowledge that you, in fact, should not fuck with the girls from Pang.
(Mongrel Media)

Latest Coverage