A first time feature, director-writer Nicholas Treeshin’s Thunderbird has a lot of potential, and he has ninety minutes to either use that wisely potential or squander it. Ivy Seymour (Natalie Brown) is a city detective who goes to the Western part of Turtle Island. She looks at a whiteboard with pictures, all of them of white women whom someone murdered in a ritualistic fashion. The lead to find justice for the latest victim is that victim’s roommate, Sarah Brook.
Thunderbird then follows Ivy’s investigation, which parallels that of Sarah’s brother, Will (Colten Wilke) a fisherman with past trauma. His investigation requires him to return to a town that doesn’t welcome him. When he is younger (Ben Andrusco-Doan, he confirms Sarah’s story of magical creatures murdering their parents. However, the police coerces him to blame his parents’ murder to a First Nations chief. When Ivy finds out about Will, she reluctantly teams up with him, even with all that baggage.
Treeshin’s decision for Ivy and Will to team up is where Thunderbird starts to lose me, although the film has other chancres for it to get my suspension of disbelief back. As a team, both interview the nurse who takes care of Sarah before the latter’s disappearance. The nurse just gives us confidential information to someone whom the local police force has yet to deputize.
When it comes to representation, especially with women, Thunderbird takes as many steps forward as it does backward, which is unfortunate. This review gravitates a lot of Ivy as a lead. But sadly, she’s really the only complex female character in the film. Sarah returns but the film doesn’t give her anything. And the one Indigenous female character doesn’t have name, and the film treats her like a victim. The film also doesn’t give the supporting male characters any nuance. They ‘vary’ from racist white cop to empathetic First Nations Chief George (Julian Black Antelope) to scowling First Nations men.
Credit is due to how Wilke fleshes out Will’s trauma, but Thunderbird‘s other elements pertaining to that is still weird. Sure, Will’s narration of the events, as well as the dialogue there, complement the flashbacks. But these minor touches can’t cover up the fact that this film uses anti-Indigenous police brutality as secondary to a white man’s pain. I’ve seen other films do this better. It doesn’t help that I was just watching a short criticizing settler horror creators for using Indigenous horror as a trope.
Thunderbird is a thriller with horror elements, and it also serves as a metaphor for First Nations and settler relations where both sides have varying degrees of feelings. Sadly, almost half of its visuals put a brooding white man as its central figure which feels really unfortunate. The film also has three endings. The first of the three endings has bad special effects, and the film earns none of them.
Thunderbird is an OVID exclusive.