Playing in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance, Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr’s debut feature, Wild Indian, is full of compelling performances. The film moves at a strong clip, coming in at under 90 minutes. In a wide-angled close up, a young boy with a black eye, Makwa, smokes a cigarette in the woods; he and his friend Ted-O run to catch the school bus. Their connection to nature is the only thing that makes sense in a cruel childhood of abuse and dismissal.
In scenes at school with a white, Catholic priest, who presumes the young boy’s family to be alcoholics, Makwa’s link to his heritage is already being severed. The boy contemplates killing his abusive parents, even entering their room at night with a blade, but instead, he takes his anger out on a popular boy, shooting him dead and burying him in the forest.
Just as the narrative reaches a fever pitch of unpleasantness, Mitchell Corbine Jr delivers a startling cut, jumping to 2019. Adult Makwa is played by the imposing Michael Greyeyes, a California-based businessman, who’s married to Kate Bosworth, golfs and lounges around his large modernist condo. He also has a choking fetish, which he enacts on strippers, and which the audience is forced to sit through. Corbine Jr strikes an uneasy balance between depicting Makwa’s awful behaviour and revelling in it, and Greyeyes’ steady performance leaves everything to the imagination.
Meanwhile, Ted-O (Chaske Spencer, recognisable from the Twilight films) is getting out of prison, the only things greeting him at home a gun and a wad of cash. The men’s paths re-converge, forcing them both to confront their demons and the generational trauma of living as Native Americans in the 21st century.
This dour tale of jealousy and resentment is shot with washed-out colours that heighten the production values of a fast, cheap shoot, even if they only vaguely evoke the 1980s setting. While the early scenes take a shortcut to the past, the present-day bulk makes use of digital photography and neon lighting.
Wild Indian refreshingly twists American Indie tropes to deliver a dark treatise on the toxic identifiers of the modern American male, and the pain that forces men to be swallowed it.
Wild Indian does not have a UK release date yet.
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