Don’t Say Its Name, directed by Reuben Martell and written by Reuben Martell and Gerald Wexler, played at Fantasia Film Festival. The film follows a small Indigenous community at odds about a mining company, WEC, drilling on tribal land. When an activist dies in an unsolved hit-and-run, and WEC starts their work, mysterious murders follow. It’s up to local peace officer Mary Stonechild (Madison Walsh) and Park Ranger Stacey Cole (Sera-Lys McArthur) to stop whoever or whatever is wreaking havoc in the community. Don’t Say Its Name shows us horror through the tales and culture of the Indigenous community. It’s a unique horror lens, and the story, execution feel like Wolfen meets Predator.
If you go in blind, when the film starts and we see activist Kharis (Sheena Kaine) run-down, it seems the film is a whodunit mystery alone. However, soon the story becomes more, expanding beyond mystery and horror. An underlying commentary about tribal lands, bureaucratic red tape, and what we gain or lose when we seize opportunities creates a richer discussion beyond its horror elements.
Relationships Natural With A Deeper Exploration
For some in the community, like Carson (Julian Black Antelope), it’s an opportunity for his people to flourish, to have jobs and facilities that provide care and basic needs to everyone—provided WEC holds up their end. For the recently deceased Kharis, and her mom, Mary Lynne (Carla Fox), the cost to the land is too high a price. Those gains while sacrificing the environment and land are not worth it. The land appears to agree.
Don’t Say Its Name is at its best focusing on the community and the different personalities. The dynamics between peace officer Mary Stonechild and a white police officer assisting in the cases could foster a long discussion about whiteness. The relationship seems mellow but becomes strained. The film does a great job showcasing the ease with which white people will “other” a community. There are similarities between the loud sexist white employee for WEC and the white officer as both exhibit prejudices toward Indigenous people. The former is blunt, while the latter hides their biases.
Give Me Wolfen or Predator Vibes And I’m On Board!
To that point, the acting in the film is good. A favorite character would have to be Stacey Cole, who is in no mood to tolerate entitled jerks. She has wit, humor, strength, and fragility beneath the surface due to her military past. Also, Mary Stonechild’s relation, Ben Stonechild (Samuel Marty) does a great job. He doesn’t come across as the trite obnoxious teen often depicted in films.
The action is good. The first-person view from the attacker and how they see their prey are similar to Wolfen and Predator. Also, the hunt takes place because people are in a territory they do not belong in and are not welcome. The most significant misstep is showing the killer, but that’s because the budget wasn’t there for adequate effects to make it terrifying. It would have been better to continue without that; yet, the film was still good despite this, and few films can say the same. The editing worked with the scenes, especially the horror scenes, and the directing did a great job at showing victims’ tension. Moments feel heightened and claustrophobic despite the wide-open areas. It’s as though there’s no escape.
Don’t Say Its Name uses horror to show audiences a glimpse of a community that gets few opportunities to share their stories. Things are looking up, as we’ve recently had feature films like Blood Quantum (Shudder) and Wild Indian, as well as shows like Rutherford Falls (Peacock TV) and Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu). Horror is distinct in creating a story with real-life social, political commentary while encasing it in an entertaining tale. It’s the medicine that doesn’t taste like medicine—the vegetables hidden in a delicious meal or smoothie. Let’s enjoy!