Film critic Kristian Fanene Schmidt reviews some of the Sundance 2021’s buzziest titles and Wild Indian is in the spotlight today.

It’s not often we get to see a full feature by an Indigenous writer-director: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. is one to watch in 2021. He’s been groomed for success through a number of Sundance fellowships and labs, so I have no doubt big things are ahead for him. But as much as I am cheering for Black and Indigenous creatives, I can’t say I enjoyed this film.

In it we meet Ted-O, who witnesses his psychopath friend-cousin Makwa murder their schoolmate in cold blood, and then gets manipulated into assisting with the cover up. The story is about what happens when they reunite as adults and the two very different paths their lives have taken.

The highlight for me was Ted-O played brilliantly by Chaske Spencer, who many may know as Sam Uley from the Twilight films. We find out he’s spent his life in and out of prison and battling mental illness.

My lowlight was Makwa, played by Michael Greyeyes. Makwa grows up to be Michael Peterson and he’s got it all—a fancy apartment, a white trophy wife, a golf club membership and a high-paying corporate job.

We’re not given any information on his journey to this brand new life after running away from the reservation. Instead, we’re given gems like how he pays blondes to choke them half to death at the strip club where he met his wife.

I know he’s supposed to be freaky and strange because psychopaths are all the way messed up, but adult Makwa’s weirdness felt acted [not in the good sense]. I yearned for something more nuanced and unexpected. I was also hoping to see consequences for all his twisted choices and how they impacted him. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get any of that. And the big moment where we get a breakthrough of emotion in the form of tears being shed…I felt absolutely nothing. If I’m watching you cry, I better be crying along with you! Nothing worse than feeling indifferent to someone balling their eyes out.

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Even so, I hope Corbine and other Indigenous creatives get more chances to bring to life works that centre Indigenous people. Looking forward to seeing more Native American content on the big screen.

Check out the cast of Wild Indian talking to Deadline about the film:

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