Fantasia International Film Festival (FIFF) – Directed and co-written by Rueben Martell, Don’t Say Its Name starts out as a murder mystery, but it quickly turns into a supernatural thriller as a ravenous corporation and a supernatural entity both begin to terrorize the lives of people on a reservation. The film’s snowy setting is often stained in red as the bodies pile up in this horror, and it further stands out for being primarily female lead and for giving a small glimpse into tribal life and indigenous activism.
Don’t Say Its Name is set in a small, snow-covered town that is inhabited primarily by an indigenous community. Soon after allowing a company to mine their land in exchange for the potential economical benefits, gruesome murders begin to take place in the surrounding woods, prompting local law enforcer Betty (Madison Walsh) to begin an investigation, alongside her newly deputized ranger Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur). Beginning with the first murder victim, an environmental protester publicly against the mining company’s activities, their investigation leads them to believe that people linked to the corporation are being targeted, but by who — or what — they must solve before they end up being next.
Don’t Say Its Name was one of my most anticipated movies to be screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021. Its mix of supernatural elements and criminal investigation seemed like a winner, and I just knew that its winter wonderland setting and indigenous cast would offer strong and impressional backbones for this horror, however, while viewing Don’t Say Its Name, I could not help but find nearly everything about it cliche, and it couldn’t quite escape the made for video feel. In cases such as these, the culprit is normally a low budget, but in a film festival like Fantasia known for films that are independent but astonishingly creative, Don’t Say Its Name came off as a woefully mediocre production.
I will say that despite the cookie-cutter characters, structure, musical score, and familiar premise of criminal activity that turned out to instead be something supernatural, the content of Don’t Say Its Name did have substance, with one of the film’s elements of evil being represented by encroaching corporate power over the people’s dwindling land. It is not a far cry from the historical relationship of indigenous people with new outsiders, where they often subsequently saw their land, and inevitably, their culture threatened. This all-too-familiar real-life horror is given a contemporary setting in Don’t Say Its Name, only with the addition of a supernatural entity from local folklore adding another layer of horror to the film. I mainly wish they had thought of a creative or clever way to forego showing the entity until the very end in order to build anticipation and fear, as the frequent sightings and killings became repetitive and lost their effect on me early on, and I felt that the film mostly relied on the tenacity and charismatic ways of its leading women, Sera-Lys McArthur and Madison Walsh, to carry the film to the finish.
Though Don’t Say Its Name is completely watchable, the lethal combination of its stock music and sound design, amateur acting, cheap jump scares, and the somewhat nonsensical ending didn’t create the best presentation in my opinion, but as a seemingly low budget film and the fact that Don’t Say Its Name is the directorial debut of its creator Rueben Martell, some leniencies can be granted, and all in all, it is a good straight to video/Shudder/etc. sort of fair.
The film will screen as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, happening August 5-25.
6.25 Out of 10