IMPRINT is a quiet little indie supernatural drama from 2007 that I never heard of until I was looking for genre movies from a Native American perspective.
Shayla Stonefeather (Tonantzin Carmelo, Into the West, Teen Wolf) is an attorney in Denver prosecuting Lakota teen Robbie Whiteshirt (Joseph Medicine Blanket) for murder. The local Native American community has come out in force proclaiming his innocence and protesting the unfairness of a nearly all white jury, so she’s seen as a traitor to her people when she gets him convicted.
Meanwhile her dad (Charlie White Buffalo, Into the West) is dying, so she goes back home to say goodbye and support her mother (musician Carla-Rae). She gets a call from her douchey white boyfriend/colleague Jonathan (Cory Brusseau, ESCAPE THROUGH TIME) saying that Robbie tried to escape and was shot to death, and then she starts seeing and hearing weird things around the house. Is she being harassed by Robbie’s angry brother Frank (Russell Chewey), or others who are angry about the Whiteshirt case? Or is it some ghosty business? Or a 50/50 blend?
And there’s another mystery. Her brother Nathaniel (Gerald Tokala Clifford, SKINS, SWELTER) has been missing for some time, possibly dead, after an incident with her father discovering him using meth. And though her father is catatonic most of the time, she hears him yell out things in the night, and got him to draw some pictures which seem to have some sort of significance. So this may be related to one or more of the mysteries.
There is a mostly unspoken sense that Shayla has “turned her back on her people,” but all she did was go off and make a life and career for herself in the city. I guess her mistake was not becoming some kind of crusader lawyer, but just another cog in a machine that everybody else sees is unfair to people with backgrounds similar to hers. The system doesn’t give Robbie a chance, so when he loses faith in the system and tries to run that’s used as proof of his guilt and reason to kill him. She has to come to terms with her part in that.
I’m an easier mark for the father stuff than most people, because whatever he’s supposed to have really reminded me of my dad’s dementia. You’re trying to talk to him and he not only doesn’t respond but his eyes never focus on you. He’s alive but he’s not there. Very sad and effective in this movie.
The boyfriend is the only major white character, and he is not representing us well. He does some nice things and has a certain charm, but not enough to cover the slime. I don’t like movies to be against interracial relationships, but this one definitely makes it easy to root for her to drop the zero and get with Tom Greyhorse (Michael Spears, DANCES WITH WOLVES, Longmire), a childhood friend turned police officer who looks after her after she thinks she hears an intruder in the house. Jonathan gets all in-his-face-possessive in a way that is embarrassing especially coming from a grown adult.
Her family doesn’t live that different from white people. That should be obvious, but it’s something that you almost never see in movies: the homes of contemporary Native American families. They have their share of cultural paraphernalia around the house, dreamcatchers and buffalo skulls, but also posters of favorite bands and things. One day Shayla comes home and there’s a medicine man (Dave Bald Eagle, LAKOTA WOMAN: SIEGE AT WOUNDED KNEE) visiting, waving sage around her dad and various rooms of the house. It seems like it’s not really her thing but also she’s familiar with it, she doesn’t have to ask about it. It’s refreshing to see something like that in a movie without one character making a speech about what it’s supposed to do or signify.
Same goes with the interactions she starts having with animals. On her way into town she stops for a crossing buffalo herd. She keeps seeing a wolf watching her. A neighbor’s horse shows up and lets her ride. We can speculate if the animals are telling her something, protecting her, stalking her, if they represent the spirits of deceased family members, etc. They don’t have to talk about it and give us guidance on that. There’s a great moment when she has a sort of vision, and wakes up on the porch with the horse nudging her. She sees the wolf in the distance and says to the horse, “Okay, let’s see what he wants.”
The animal scenes are all done on location with real animals, adding some good production value to the low budget movie. Otherwise I don’t much care for the look of this one, which is very clean and bland, lacking in the style and atmosphere needed to make shadowy apparitions scary. But the strong cast and well executed twist carried me through the breezy 80 minute running time. And really you can’t understate the uniqueness of a movie having an almost entirely Native American cast, without being a western, or even using their culture in a very gimmicky way. The supernatural occurrences happen to be framed in a different religious tradition than the usual Catholic-based ghost and demon movies, but it’s very matter-of-fact about that. Again, nobody has to talk about it that way in the movie. It’s just what happens.
I’m not sure, but it sounds like director Michael Linn might be a white dude. According to the text extras on the disc, “In the early versions of this Native American supernatural thriller, co-writers Michael Linn and Keith Davenport were envisioning a white family on a rural South Dakota farm. It evolved into the story of a Native American family on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation largely because of a question Misty Upham, who starred in Chris Eyre’s EDGE OF AMERICA, posed: Why aren’t there more contemporary roles for Indians in all genres of film?”
Producer Eyre is the director of SMOKE SIGNALS, which is maybe a bigger deal around here than wherever you are because writer Sherman Alexie lives in Seattle. But how many other working Native American filmmakers are there? We could use some more. They are the culture that was here first and yet they’re the one that’s most invisible. Let’s hear their stories.
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Here in the U.S. it is Thanksgiving, so thank you all for reading, supporting, and sharing your thoughts. I am very proud of and grateful for the community of smart and kind people who I hear from every day in comments, emails, and social media – so many people with interesting tastes, good insights and an amazingly low amount of the bullshit and negativity that plagues most of the internet. I appreciate you all and we’ll need each other’s friendship, ideas and inspiration more than ever in the upcoming year. Let’s try to have some fun in the face of all this and show ’em what’s up. No matter what happens I promise to keep trying to have the most thoughtful websight about movies where people get kicked in the face all the time. I hope you’ll all be there with me (and invite friends).
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.