What is the difference between instinct and feeling? Members of a futuristic tribe seek the answer in this action-adventure with just a hint of sci-fi. The Northlander is written, directed and produced by Benjamin Ross Hayden. The Albertan filmmaker is proud to mention his Metis roots, and his production hinges on this. Though the main clan could be a group of random people banding together after wars, genocide, or natural apocalypse, the group is identifiable as Aboriginal Canadian.
Corey Sevier (Instant Star, North Shore) plays main baddie-but-goodie Cygnus. He is mysterious and apparently troubled. Sevier is normally quite a hunk, but with the crew’s particular attention to makeup and mood, he has transformed into a fierce, brooding warrior. His acting feels a touch stilted in the earlier scenes, but it’s forgivable because, well, he’s an attractive protagonist.
Director of Photography Dan Dumouchel sets a visual tone with wide landscape pans, somber forest and mountain scenes, and an overall dark yet pretty aesthetic. The underground crypt scenes welcome the viewer into an unexpected change of environment. The effects and props are relatively simple, but manage to convey the idea that the story is indeed set in the future. All these aspects as well as costume design are interesting considering The Northlander did not have a large budget. To further build on the overall look of the project, makeup and prosthetic skin effects play an important part in the characters’ aesthetics.
For those interested in scarification and tribal markings, this is an added feature to an otherwise straightforward human identity story. Characters search within themselves by connecting with others, the true nature of the self. They access the lines between good and evil, and often cross the pre-set boundary of the two.
“To feel is to live.”
Whether good or bad, feeling is the true answer to the quest Cygnus has undertaken.
General cinema-goers may not quite get the aspects of what is undeniably Canadian. Canadian cinema, to those who do not know, often seems to have an inexplicable made-for-TV ambiance. It is not to say it is bad filmmaking. It is a cultural slant that might be hard to explain to anyone who’s never watched TV series such as North of 60 or Due South.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that some of the action sequences have a dancerly feel to them. Sevier is trained in martial arts, and that is apparent as well. Weapons fly, and combatants make use of the natural environment to leverage their blows and dodges. Audiences don’t often have the chance to see combat scenes like these in Canadian cinema, so that’s a small treat.
The Northlander premieres at The Montreal World Film Festival, Imperial Cinema on September 2, 2016.