Don’t Say Its Name (2021)
Director (and co-writer): Rueben Martell
Cast: Madison Walsh, Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black-Antelope, Sheena Kaine, Carla Fox, Samuel Marty
When a young passionate activist of an indigenous community is killed unexpectedly, a string of mysterious murders suddenly show up with no murderers in sight but with witnesses who don’t see anyone present. As local peace officer Mary and Park Ranger Stacey join together to investigate, they realize that it is related to the mining company WEC who has been approved to drill on their tribal lands and that something of a supernatural form could be protecting against it.
Don’t Say Its Name is a 2021 Canadian horror thriller. Set in a snowy indigenous First Nations community, the film also features a mainly female cast also mostly with indigenous backgrounds. There are not nearly enough films in any genre with First Nations voices and this one having this one is a pretty impressive one. The story itself is prime folk horror essence as the different opinions towards the change in the use the lands become a big factor to what is happening in the story. The snowscape and the community is a big factor in what makes this stand out. It highlights some of the isolated elements in the snowscape but also its lack of resources to have a more extensive investigation. The values of community is a big part of what is created here and the struggles that the community as a whole has. However, these little details are hidden in its script and dialogues but adds so much to the setting itself.
The cast is also pretty decent here. Mary, played by Madison Walsh as the local peace officer is really great in her role as she moves through each of the scenes trying to figure out what is going on. Her character is nice as she carries multiple hats while trying to do what she can with the investigation but also trying to care for her nephew and the little everyday bickering which accentuates another element. As she seeks for help, she finds Park Ranger Stacey, played by Sera-Lys McArthur who has her own set of issues including recovering from her time in the army but also her mixed race elements that shuns her a little from the community itself. The characters don’t go incredibly deep but they do build them enough to make them ones that are compelling to watch on screen.
In terms of pacing which is rather important in thrillers, the film kickstarts its investigation almost immediately and sets up the mystery right away. There are a lot of unknowns when it first starts leaving room for intrigue. The mysterious killings are also executed rather well as it uses its surroundings well enough. The special effects are also good. The film itself is a thrilling experience in the second half as the general suspicions are being investigated with the supernatural element becoming more prominent. It all comes barreling to a tense ending as everything unveils itself. While there does seem to be some elements that feel a little underexplained by the end, it does wrap up the whole situation fairly well.
Overall, Don’t Say Its Name is a rather unique horror film. Its snowy setting in a First Nations community is definitely the standout element but the whole thriller and mystery elements are also well-executed. This one is a pretty decent treat as it blends elements of folk horror with supernatural.
As a final thought, maybe I might be overthinking this a little, the plot premise also leaves room to contemplate a little more on what started the whole situation of whether protecting the land is more important than grabbing opportunities for its people (among some other points about community and this society that this film made me think about.)
*Don’t Say Its Name had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th. There is an encore virtual screening on August 20th at 9am. More info HERE.*