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Slash/Back (2022): Alien Imposters & Embracing Your Culture



Slash/Back is part coming-of-age, part John Carpenter’s The Thing, with a sprinkling of Attack the Block and all heart. While fighting alien invaders, these girls learn to love and fight for their culture, their home, and their identity. Gabe shares thoughts from the creator and cherishes new stories like these. A playful homage to horror while educating, love it! Kat shares information on the uncanny valley of the monsters and describes some of the Inuit folkloric monsters designed to keep kids safe in the Arctic.

Sources in this Episode: Nyla Innuksuk on her New Film “Slash/Back” - Inuit Art Foundation Your Guide to the Monsters in Inuit Art - Inuit Art Foundation


Slash/Back - Mongel Media

 

Media from this week's episode:

Slash/Back (2022):

When Maika and her ragtag friends discover an alien invasion in their tiny arctic hamlet, it's up to them to save the day. Utilizing their makeshift weapons and horror movie knowledge, the aliens realize you don't mess with girls from Pang.

  • Director - Nyla Innuksuk

 

Slash/Back, No One Messes With Girls From Pang: Embracing Your Cultural Identity Can be Badass by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Slash/Back is part coming-of-age, part John Carpenter’s The Thing, with a sprinkling of Attack the Block and all heart. Following a band of plucky teens in Pangnirtung, an Inuit hamlet on the Canadian territory of Baffin Island. Our indigenous heroines are tasked with protecting their home from an invading force, an alien invasion with gross, fidgeting, not-moving-right, imposters. (Cue: “He’s wearing an Edgar suit” joke Gabe loves to make). The film opens with a white man and doing some ice science with a pole, snow, and data. He hears a curious sound before promptly exploring in a way that would make Ripley so mad and gets himself facehugged. This is our introduction to the monster under the ice, something sinister and quite hungry.


When we first meet the girls they are like any other, stuck in that in-between space of growing up not quite a teen but not a kid either. The girls gather together and decide to go hunting on the mainland. Maika, the lead of the troupe, grabs a rifle and heads for her family’s boat. Following close behind we have Uki, the rambunctious kid with a wild side, Leena, the quiet and sweet friend who is definitely going to grow into the Mom friend, and Jesse, down-to-earth and level-headed. Maika’s younger sister, Aju, sneaks her way over as well, showing herself to not be someone easily left behind. She rides her bike over just in time for the chaos.

The girls practice aiming before Aju arrives, yelling for them to get their attention. One of the girls spots a polar bear in the distance and takes aim. But this polar bear is quite strange. Its movements are fidgety, glitchy even, and certainly not right. Uki, always seeking to prove herself, takes aim and fires only for the bear to set its disturbing eyes upon little Aju. It charges forward and jumps on Aju, covering her in blood as Uki struggles to reload and take aim. Just in time, they’re able to shoot it and run back to their home. They all agree something was bizarre about the bear and they hint at it being the Ijiraq or a Qallupilluit, an Inuit folklore monster much like the Boogeyman that steals children. The Ijiraq are shape-shifting creatures who kidnap children and abandon them in places that are hidden away and not easy to find. (Kat will go into more of those spooky creatures in their section!)


A bunch of kids in Pang begin to gather 'round to hear the story of the group’s run-in with a real-life Ijiraq before they are unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, accosted by a police officer. It was giving Rhymes for Young Girls. Luckily, a local woman who is also an officer comes to their rescue. We get to spend more time with the girls and learn about their lives and personalities. Pang is small, everyone knows everyone and there are expectations for these girls. Leena is grounded for going to the mainland. Uki is off wandering, after having been dared to return to the bear attack, she goes in search of Aju’s bike and for vengeance. Jesse has a crush on a local boy, the teen dream, Thomassie who is hosting a party at his house while all the parents and adults in Pang go to a super fun line-dancing event. During these interactions, we learn about the complicated challenge of identity Maika is struggling with. Her father has taught her to hunt and wishes to instill Inuit values in her only for her to push them away. When Thomassie asks about the food she likes, she shrugs off and shows distaste for the traditional food and instead prefers KFC. She makes a terrible comment about the Inuit fish art in Thomassie’s house explaining that it’s tired and replicated everywhere to which he responds that it’s his mother’s art. Embarrassed she tries to change the subject before they are interrupted by the very loud and very terrified Uki.


Uki, while on her adventure to recover the bike, finds not only the strange polar bear but other bizarre-moving animals. Following close behind she discovers their alien spaceship of meat. The tentacles extending from the ship, latches onto their human victim, a nice fisherman from Pang, and sucks out his blood. Uki is attacked by a polar bear cub, slices it, and runs away, covered in blood. When she storms the party, she explains to everyone that there are aliens coming. In an attempt to stay relevant, and still burning with embarrassment, Maika absolutely lays into Uki. She unleashes a torrent of incredibly harmful words. After one of the aliens, now donning the gross police officer’s skin busts into the party, everyone learns rather quickly about the invasion. We get some really cool chase scenes and find Uki to be quite innovative and clever with survival.

Later, Maika tries to get some answers. She asks Uki about the “alien pretending not to be an alien” to which Uki responds, “Yes, like an Inuk pretending not to be an Inuk.” It is clear to her friends how Maika is trying to separate herself from her culture. In an interview on Inuit Art Foundation titled, Nyla Innuksuk on her New Film “Slash/Back”, director Nyla Innuksuk explains, “In the end, it is a very personal project about what it means to be growing up in a contemporary world as an Indigenous woman. We are the children of residential school survivors dealing with shame in our identities [as Indigenous people]. And dealing with our identities as young women. But of course, I had to throw some aliens in there to make it fun.”


The rest of the film pits the young girls against the Edgar-suit wearing aliens as they embrace the power of an Inuk woman, not someone to be messed with. They find a love for their hometown and decide to save Pang. What would this place be without them? Because no one stands a chance against an Inuk woman. They gather weapons, new, old, traditional and more, create plans of action, and fight the invading force.


The look of the monsters is so well done. It’s simple, a talented actor that can move their body in that not-quite-human way while wearing a person masks. Unlike The Thing, these monsters are not good at pretending, only approaching slowly and quietly to disarm the prey before turning back into their more comfortable position, on all fours and scuttling towards you. Other than the super fun and eerie look of the monsters, there is so much to love including it’s location, the folklore, the soundtrack, and of course, the girls.


The location and the community played such a big part in the creation of the film. In every part of the film process, the community and culture seep through both in front of and behind the camera. Innuksuk cast the young actors by conducting acting workshops locally. Her and an arts organization that supports performing artists in Nunavut, called Qaggiavuut helped equip the girls with headshots and videos. The girls also helped in developing the fuller story, from short to feature, offering their own insight into the characters and their experiences.


Innuksuk said one of the highlights was actually working with the community. “The other highlight was getting to know the community, the people that we met, the people that were on our crew, the people whose houses we lived in, who drove our boats and cars and all of these things—it wouldn't have been possible if there wasn't a chance to film this [in Panniqtuuq] and we had to film in Iqaluit.”


Having the film take place in Pang is a point of pride for Director Innuksuk. In the interview with Inuit Art Foundation she explains the challenges but also, successes of the shooting location. “We started filming in June of 2019. It's where my nephews are from, and so it was great to see family in Pang. There's 24-hour sunlight; it wasn't the lighting conditions that we were used to…The whole movie takes place over the course of the day. And so when we're doing that [in Arctic summer] it's a different kind of thing than when you're working with a movie in any other location, because you're having to keep on reminding yourself that it never really gets dark. You have to remind the audience in other ways that time is passing.” The film had a number of challenges because of the location, including where folx were staying. “it's about a housing crisis—there's not enough homes [in Panniqtuuq] for the residents. So to add in an extra 60-70 people was not feasible. We had to live in the high school for a full two months, we had to set up kitchens and have three meals a day produced for 60 people out of those kitchens. But it was really, really important to me that we didn't just come in and leave, that we really embraced the fact that that we're in this place and hunkered down and just tried to make it the best we could within this infrastructure that we had to create ourselves, because it doesn't exist in the community.”


The soundtrack is created by the amazingly talented and hypnotizing duo, Halluci Nation. Tim “2oolman” Hill and Ehren “Bear Witness” make up the group, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red. Innuksuk had worked with them for an interactive virtual reality music video and when she began thinking up the film she reached out. They were confirmed before the script was finished.


Ultimately, I think what we find with a film like Slash/Back is the beauty of new stories on screen. We should celebrate these voices, these stories, and these creators. It’s a delight to get a glimpse into a culture we don’t often hear about. I really appreciate this film and hope you watch it. For Director Innuksuk the film was an absolute treat to create, saying, “Just to get to the point where you can be taking on and directing a feature, being up there at a certain point [during filming] in Pang, in the beautiful community where we shot and walking around, at a certain point I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I'm actually doing this thing!' I was working with a bunch of 14-year-old girls and thinking about myself at that age, and just how much I loved horror movies. For me to be up there, I was really doing what I wanted to do when I was a kid.”


Also knowing how much the community and culture impacted the creation of it elevated the film for me. The director agrees saying, “I hope the impacts that we had on the community were positive. I'm so excited to be able to go back with the finished project and to share it with this community that made it possible. When I see myself represented on screen in ways that I haven't seen myself before, it's meaningful, even when it's something silly, like a Star Wars movie. It's important, I think, to feel seen and represented. I hope the movie does that for the community.”


Fun Side Facts: The team designed a fake polar bear costume for actor Troy James to wear and perform as the bear. The director had such an appreciation for The Thing’s practical effects that she really wanted to give this a shot but the look on camera was a bit too odd so they went with a CGI bear. I’d love to have seen that original though!


Also, the square-dancing is a real thing. In fact, Innuksuk filmed a documentary in Pang about those square dancers previously!

 

Inuit Folklore: Monsters Made to Keep You Alive by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


This film was a fun time that had a lot of cool things going on. Lots of interesting history, lore, relationship/character development, and very terrifying monsters that wear the skin of your neighbors. What is really fun about this film is that the children really are the stars, and absolutely kick butt against these very scary and adult monsters. Fighting flesh stealing aliens is a hard thing to do, which anyone who has seen “The Thing” knows, it took a lot of grown adults to win against those aliens. The reason this film really fits in with our identity series is that the entire story is centered on this coming of age story for these young girls as they learn to accept themselves for who they are and where they come from. Something that is already very challenging to do, they get to do while also fighting some of the scariest aliens i’ve ever seen.


Why were the alien’s in this movie so unsettling?

Like most body stealing horror, the motivation behind the fear of the flesh wearing aliens is multifaceted. There is a lot of fear around being replaced, fear of assimilation or loss of self/autonomy. There is also the fear associated with seeing something masquerading as a human, that provides that uncanny valley like uneasiness. These monsters, as Gabe said, don’t do a fantastic job masquerading as humans, and don’t fit well into the skin they wear. They shift uncomfortably and the skin itself falls on the tentacle insides in a way that looks loose and lumpy. The faces hold no expression and the eyes are gaping holes.


In this instance I think the alien’s act as a parallel to the girl's self acceptance journey, as they learn to love who they are and where they come from. This is further solidified when thinking that the alien’s leave once the girls have embraced who they are and fight back against their feelings of self doubt and self hatred.


Mythology integrated into the Film

As a disclaimer I am very obviously not from this culture, so I should not be taken as an authority on this topic. I learned about this information from the internet, and I’m sure there are many nuances and things that I do not have the capacity to understand because I am an outsider to this culture. In providing this information, I am hoping to encourage you to learn and seek knowledge, and to not let me speaking about this be your final stop.


In an interview with the director, Nyla Innuksuk, they spoke on how mythology was integrated throughout the film. In the article Nyla Innuksuk on her New Film “Slash/Back” when asked JM: Can you talk about the roles that contemporary sci-fi and traditional Inuit monster stories play in the film?

They said: “There's an element of traditional Inuit myth in there. Certainly, the idea of storytelling and sharing scary stories with your friends is something that was very common to me and my friends. When you're from the North, where the environment is so harsh, our scary stories are comparatively terrifying. So the stories that we were told as kids, like ‘don't get too close to the ice edge, qalupalik will snatch you’—qalupalik have long hair and green skin, and they'll steal children and put them in their mouths and bring them underwater, and potentially keep them forever—there's all of these terrifying stories in all these everyday scenarios. I think when you're growing up in a place like that, those kinds of magic just seep into the everyday, especially when you're at the age where you're believing in that kind of stuff a little bit.”


After looking into the myth of the qallupilluk further, I was linked through the interview to a list of other myths , on inuitartfoundation.org, they list a handy Your Guide to the Monsters in Inuit Art, and provide images by inuit artists accompanied by brief overviews. I won’t go through all of them, but will cover the first five:




Qallupilluk/Qalupalik

Venturing near the floe edge in spring, as the pack ice drifts, can be a dangerous endeavor, complicated even further by what lies beneath. Clad in eider down or a duck skin amauti (women’s parka), the malevolent, humanoid qallupilluk are said to live under the ice, waiting with sinuous tendrils and sinister claws to carry away children who play too close to the fringe of the northern sea. Rarely seen but often heard, they whisk their prey away on their backs to caves deep in the Arctic waters. In some tellings, particularly for inland communities like Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, qallupilluk also dwell in the depths of certain lakes. In others, the creatures are said to take the form of various Arctic animals to trick victims into approaching the boundary between land and sea. Yet, in each instance of the cautionary tale, used to warn children of the dangers inherent in the northern landscape, an echoing knock on the breaking sheets of ice signals both the natural and supernatural threat waiting below.




Inukpasugjuit

Giants known as inukpasugjuit that tower above humans have travelled and left their mark across the Arctic, their footprints still visible on the land. Some malevolent, others kind, giants have been the subject of many stories told and artworks made by Inuit. There are stories of giants who were so large they would mistake polar bears for foxes and bowhead whales for seal. A famous giant was said to be able to walk across mountains in one step and later adopted a human son to help him pick lice as big as lemmings from his head. Some say that giants sleep for hundreds of years and that if you see a mountain on an otherwise featureless terrain, it may be a giant deep in slumber.




Tuurngaq

Tuurngait are rarely seen, but are responsible for much activity, both malignant and benevolent. While they are known to invite naïve people into their cave-dwellings in mountains and cliffs to trap and eat them, these beings can also be helpful when summoned by powerful angakkuit (shamans) in times of need. The turngait are shapeshifters of sorts and can take on a multitude of forms. Some are only visible to the angakkuq who summoned them, while others take on an almost demonic look, with bared teeth, horns and long talons, still others are unassuming and appear harmless, a tactic that helps lure people back to their homes. The Torngat Mountains in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut are given their name because they are said to be home to these spirits.




Kajutajuq

A knocking heard on the ice walls of an igloo is cause for alarm, for it is believed that those who behold the ominous visitor will soon after fall ill. Lurking outside is the kajutajuq, a head with no body and no arms, just feet. In place of cheeks, she bares breasts and on her chin, a vulva. A similar creature, the tunituaruk, takes the same form, but also wears Tunniit (facial tattoos). These creatures linger in the igloos abandoned by migrating camps, surprising people who enter looking for a place to stay. The figure of kajutajuq was an ongoing source of inspiration for Davidialuk Alasua Amittu (1910–1976) who depicted her in countless sculptures and nearly a dozen prints. Amittu imagines the kajutajuq with a family and shows her giving birth and singing atop an igloo. Despite these sometimes joyous depictions, the artist calls her evil. His sons Aisa and Johnny Amittu have also dedicated a significant part of their practices to representing these figures who haunt the Ungava Peninsula.




Mahahaa

If you hear a haunting giggle carried by the Arctic wind, it may mean that the terrifying mahahaa is near. With a menacing smirk, horrific teeth and immense razor-sharp talons, this being wears a twisted smile while it stalks lone travellers during the winter months, impervious to the cold. Also known as qungalukkakkiit, the relatively small creature is routinely depicted wearing little clothing and almost always barefoot, with icy blue eyes that peer out from beneath a long, tangled mane. Perhaps most notable are its elongated fingers and similarly prolonged nails that it uses to tickle victims to death—all while grinning from ear to ear. However, this cruel figure is easily fooled. Elders suggest tricking the mahahaa into sharing one last drink by the water’s edge where soon-to-be victims can push the creature into the rushing current to escape.


If interested in learning about more, they continue on the website.

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