Adapted from the novel by Joseph Boyden, Don McKellar’s Through Black Spruce tells the story of missing Moosonee girl Suzanne Bird, through the perspectives of her uncle Will and sister Annie.
It’s hard to distance oneself from the circumstances surrounding Through Black Spruce and its source material of the same name. Producer Tina Keeper stated to The Globe and Mail that the film was a collaboration between cultures – but with accusations of appropriation by Boyden and the film’s direction by the non-Indigenous McKellar, it’s difficult not to take these aspects into account while watching the film.
Through Black Spruce’s dual storylines suffer as the film does not do a particularly good job of interweaving the two narratives. There are large chunks of the film that we spend with either Annie or Will, without seeing the other protagonist for a very long time. The film feels disconnected as a result, and could have benefited from some extra time in the edit room to ensure we don’t forget either story as it progresses.
Tanaya Beatty & Brandon Oakes hold their own, even though the material they’ve been given is a fairly standard missing person’s mystery. Their performances and the juxtaposition between the film’s two locations (Moosonee and Toronto) help the film from becoming a disaster.
With a slew of poor (or mediocre at best) choices in the film, it adds fuel to the question if the material would have been better served by another filmmaker or even been made at all.