When Aliens Invade
Film director Nyla Innuksuk brings sci-fi and horror to Nunavut.
People in Pangnirtung got used to watching aliens walk by their windows this summer.
A film crew of 70 spent August shooting a feature-length horror sci-fi film titled Slash/Back. It’s the first feature film from Inuk producer and director Nyla Innuksuk.
“When I had this idea of girls fighting aliens in the North, I thought, well if there is going to be girls that would be able to handle them it’s going to be girls from Pang,” Innuksuk, 32, says. “These are young women that have grown up in a community where if you see beluga you are out on your boat and you are hunting.” Except this time, they’re hunting aliens.
The four main characters in Slash/Back are 13 and 14 years old—about the same age Innuksuk was when she began making her own scary movies and recruiting her cousins to act in them. “When I was their age I was writing horror scripts and was obsessed with movies like Jaws and Psycho.”
Originally from Igloolik and Iqaluit, the Ryerson film grad runs her own production and virtual reality startup, Mixtape VR, in Toronto where’s she’s based. She’s got a string of documentary-style work to her name and is a co-creator of the first Inuk Marvel superhero, Snowguard. Innuksuk co-wrote the script for Slash/Back with colleague Ryan Caban.
“The girls are going through stuff personally. It feels like in order to go through those things they needed something like an alien invasion,” Innuksuk says of the coming-of-age tale. “When you’re that age, when you’re 13 or 14 years old, everything can feel sort of epic.”
But what’s it take to make a feature film in a small Baffin community of 1,500? For starters, it meant flying in around 50 mattresses. The crew—camera technicians, hair and makeup, and set designers—slept in high school classrooms during production. “We were definitely testing the limits of the resources within the town,” Innuksuk says. But this was what helped to keep the film authentic. “If it doesn’t exist in Pang, it doesn’t need to be in the movie.”
The aliens in the film are a breed of otherworldly monster that disguises themselves using the skins of other animals—progressing from animals that you might see on the land, and then to human skins, as well. As such, the film called for heavy prosthetics and alien costumes. Scenes take place all over the area, from the town’s main core to the land outside of town, on the waters of Pangnirtung Fiord, and in rented homes. The lead actors gave feedback on how their friends spoke to each other, how they would dress, and what their rooms and homes would look like. “That was a barometer for me, having these girls with me to tell me what was cool and what wasn’t and what made sense.”
While it’s a contemporary film, scary stories are in no way new to the North. “Inuit myths and legends are terrifying,” she says. “My friends, we tell scary stories... It’s exciting to make a movie that I feel is connected to my home and community.”
Look for Slash/Back to premiere in 2020.