Passably Appropriated: Our Review of ‘The Northlander’

Passably Appropriated: Our Review of ‘The Northlander’

Even with the best of intentions, the blending of too many styles can get a little messy…

On its surface; The Northlander is a decent little genre affair as it blends Canadian Metis native culture into an apocalyptic future fantasy.  The results are messy but still kind of compelling considering the micro-budget nature of the project.

It’s the year 2961, humanity as we know it has receded and nature has recovered the land like it once was.  A hunter named Cygnus (Corey Sevier) is called to protect his people. He provides for Last Arc, the once-nomadic band of survivors in need of a hope that is now growing scarce. The answer must be found before a group of outlandish Heretics descend upon them. Cygnus must voyage across the treacherous landscape to defend his people. Sent by Nova (Michelle Thrush) the matriarch of the band, she acts based on her vision for Cygnus to find a seed of hope as the future of Last Arc is for him to discover. Cygnus ventures into a hostile landscape in search of an answer for his people. On this journey of encountering many traps and dangers, Cygnus discovers what has been hunting him is his identity

While the inclusion of Metis lore does add an interesting and compelling twist to the affairs, The Northlander seems to borrow from a lot that has come before it only to end up as a soft genre mishmash of movies making it an enjoyable and decent first effort from a young filmmaker who actually shows some genuine potential.

Director Benjamin Ross Hayden makes his feature debut here with a confidence that is at least partially earned.  Shooting across the mountains, forests and plains in Alberta the film looks beautiful and goes well beyond its micro-budget origins proving that you don’t need money to make something look like a million bucks.  The cinematography by Dan Dumouchel is excellent and shows clarity in vision in what these men want to produce.  The visual effects are smartly kept to a minimum as Hayden leys the scenic vistas do more for his story then any ill placed special effects ever could.  While the narrative is reasonably strong it tonally feels like it doesn’t know if it is supposed to be something like a Quest For Fire, a Mad Max type effort or something akin to the DeLaurentis days and the original Conan movies from back in the day.  They all kind of work in concert with one another, but they also make for some distractions along the way as it needed just a touch more focus in order for it to be truly effective.

Corey Sevier has a long CV and does well enough here in carrying the movie as Cygnus and we buy into what and where the arc for his character takes him.  The balance of the ensemble does reasonably well and it’s a credit to everyone involved to make sure that this film had as many native actors as possible but I’m also guessing that it didn’t allow for a ton of character development outside of our 2 or 3 lead characters.

At the end of the day, The Northlander will satisfy genre fans and it marks a positive step on telling a culturally themed story without an overt or obvious cultural appropriation as a solid first effort for a young Canadian storyteller who just might have something to say one day.

The Northlander is now available on most VOD platforms and is also having a one off screening at the Royal Cinema in downtown Toronto on Saturday May 27th.  You can visit them right here for tickets.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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