Fantasia Film Festival Review: Don’t Say Its Name (2021)

Featured image: Sera-Lys McArthur as Stacey in Don’t Say Its Name. (Courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)

Directed by Reuben Martell. Written by Reuben Martell and Gerald Wexler. Starring Madison Walsh, Sera-Lys McArthur, Samuel Marty. Runtime 1h 24 min. Don’t Say Its Name had its World Premiere on August 18, 2021, at the Fantasia Film Festival.

In horror thriller Don’t Say Its Name, outsiders are being killed by an unseen force in the woods in a Canadian Indigenous community. The town’s sheriff, Betty (Madison Walsh), can’t make heads or tails of it, so she enlists the help of badass game warden Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur).

The film is an Indigenous story at its core, one about protecting one’s land as outsiders (a coal mining company called WEC) look to profit off their land. At the very least, Don’t Say Its Name is thought-provoking because of this. There’s strong character work here, especially with Betty and Stacey. Stacey’s an army vet suffering from PTSD, so her healing from trauma of war is an intriguing element on top of Indigenous people coping with their collective trauma.

The concept for this film is strong and you can tell a lot went into the world building and structure. Though, the dialogue in the screenplay by (director) Reuben Martell and co-writer Gerald Wexler sometimes feels awkward. It’s often on-the-nose with not enough nuance.

The sentiment’s always there with strong moments. Though, when some scenes try to get their beats across so quickly, these scenes aren’t as believable with enough time to breathe. This is the case with Betty’s investigation, which she solves so quickly, so there’s no “a-ha!” moment for the audience here.

It’s a frustrating aspect, as this has the tools to be a very good film. It’s let down by foundational pieces like dialogue and weaker subsidiary characters, but it’s a good concept with strong cinematography and two strong core performances. Reuben Martell has a way with actors as a first-time filmmaker, and I like his skillset, even if his screenplay isn’t completely up to par this time.

Score: 63/100

Don’t Say Its Name premiered on Wednesday, August 18 at the Fantasia Film Festival, and plays again on Friday, August 20, at 9 a.m. with a 24-hour viewing window. If you’re in Canada, you can buy tickets here.

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