Through Black Spruce (2018) Poster

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6/10
A tense but uneven and puzzling story -- nevertheless, worth seeing.
gcsman19 June 2019
Don McKellar directed this film, which means a certain degree of quirkiness and unpredictability. The two main actors who get virtually equal lead time are Tanaya Beatty (as Annie) and Brandon Oakes (as Will), though they almost never are on screen together. She leaves her Northern Ontario Cree village to find out what has happened to her missing twin sister Suzanne in Toronto. Her uncle Will stays home and copes with a variety of events including threats from young drug-dealing thugs who think he knows more than he does. In both places there is always an undercurrent of potential violence (as expected, whites against First Peoples) but which only occasionally erupts. Beatty (who's a strikingly beautiful combination of a First Nations mother and Indian father) plays Annie as a down-to-earth, rough-edged young woman who gradually gets drawn deeper into the fashion photography world (with an undercurrent of drugs) that her twin was involved with but has mysteriously disappeared. What happened? The slow-burn nature of the mystery makes it almost irrelevant as to whether it finds any resolution.

On the other side of the line, there's no doubt about how the plotline with Will unfolds and why. His part of the movie lets us see more of the Cree life and quite a mixture of characters, settings, rituals, and experiences that to me might have been the most interesting part of this film. There are other familiar First Nations actors in the cast too, like Graham Greene (who's great in the Toronto sequence as a down-and-out street dweller with a rough sense of humor), Tantoo Cardinal, and Tina Keeper. Nice cast and bound to raise sympathy for the native lived experience.

All this aside, the scene-to-scene flow is kind of uneven, almost choppy in places. I don't know why, because it leaves a somewhat disjointed effect on the whole thing. Nevertheless, the resolution is satisfying (certain characters get what they've earned, either good or bad) and by and large it's quite watchable.
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8/10
Good on All Accounts
cruzin-1854414 July 2019
I found this movie first rate. It 's a suspenseful drama which I found (contrary to a previous reviewer) flowed well and delivered a very strong, thought provoking story. The acting was flawless and a credit to all involved and its nearly two hour duration seemed to disappear too fast. I thoroughly enjoyed it
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8/10
North&South Ont united.
natc723 August 2019
Having been raised in Northern Ontario and now living in Toronto I am a tad biased towards this plot, nevertheless felt inclined to review because I was touched by this film and it's success in addressing very delicate issues regarding indigenous peoples (isolation/otherization, culture/tradition preservation, substance abuse, missing/murdered women, etc.). I really appreciated the directing and depiction of northern life. This piece of Canadiana featuring beautiful NWO covered all bases for me; heartfelt missing-sister drama turns thriller with the introduction of the fashion industry's dark side. There are laughs, there is love and moments you'll be holding your breathe. Just wanted to mention Toronto is a very friendly city :) I watched this on an AirCanada flight and there are a few scenes with subtitles.
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7/10
A gritty tale based upon cold realism
kluseba4 August 2019
Through Black Spruce is a sinister drama shot in northern Ontario in and around Moosonee and in and around Canada's biggest city Toronto. The movie presents two story lines that are closely connected. After a young Cree model disappeared with her criminal lover in Toronto, gang members who want money from them put pressure on her resilient uncle in remote but beautiful Moosonee as they believe he might know more about their mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile, the model's twin sister travels to Toronto to find out what really happened and soon realizes that the vanished couple had a volatile relationship and got into trouble with criminals.

Based upon an award-winning novel, the most fascinating thing about Through Black Spruce is that the story is particularly realistic and honest. Many First Nations women get involved into drug trafficking and prostitution and end up getting caught in a vicious circle of addiction, isolation and violence. This movie shows one such case and portrays the desperate situation with bleak atmosphere, slow precision and cold realism. The locations meandering between the small town of Moosonee which only connects to the rest of the province via the railway and the gigantic city of Toronto where people with numerous backgrounds meet are facsinating to watch. The acting performances by lead actor Brandon Oakes and lead actress Tanaya Beatty are excellent as they rely more on body language and facial expressions than lengthy dialogues and extravagant clothing or make-up. The award-winning soundtrack underlines the movie's sinister atmosphere perfectly.

The movie might have got several negative reviews because of its slow pace but this approach actually adds to the increasingly frightening atmosphere. Some reviewers criticized the story in general and the film's ending in particular but both focus on realism rather than satisfaction and blend in very well with the rest of the movie. There are some gloomy action scenes here and there to spice things up but they are fittingly integrated. If you are expecting a fast-paced movie with a twisted plot and vivid special effects, then this movie simply isn't for you. The unique style of this crime drama however makes it a memorable experience and should particularly please those interested in First Nations cultures.
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7/10
An interesting Canadian thriller with a very impressive Native Indian actress
JuguAbraham20 September 2019
Tanaya Beatty in the lead role as a Cree Native Indian is very impressive. Though the film, based on a novel, is a thriller, the film is impressive because it empathizes with the Native Indian community and their real life woes. Ms Beatty is an eye candy with a strong voice to boot. Also impressive are Native Indian actors Brandon Oakes and Graham Greene. All in all--an above average film. My first Don McKellar film and I shall look out for his other directed films.
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6/10
This is an excellent film
calicut11017 June 2020
Very surprised by the low rating. Cinematography, acting, story are all excellent especially given the indie budget. Very nice build up and story
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8/10
A worthwhile watch
davidbyck-6523720 August 2019
Thoroughly enjoyed the book and the movie did it justice. Pretty much love anything by Don Mckellar so...
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5/10
Next Time Aim Straighter
nogodnomasters25 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The film centers on Annie Bird (Tanaya Beatty) who leaves the small community of Moosonea, Ontario to search for her missing twin sister Susanne, last seen in Toronto. She lives with her mom (Tina Keeper) and Uncle Will (Brandon Oakes).

Susanne left with Gus, her drug dealing boyfriend from a bad family. They are pressuring Will to tell them where Susanne is, so they can find Gus. Both are missing. Will has no clue. Annie discovers there are a number of Cree or Native American girls missing in Toronto. She investigates on her own being able to model like her sister to make some money.

There was nothing actually wrong with the drama. I liked the acting. Annie Bird was a bit flighty at times in a slow paced film. The real issue is after watching the feature for nearly two hours, there is no real closure.

Guide" F-word. Implied sex. Brief nudity.
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7/10
What's missing here
silverton-3795921 November 2020
While the story has been cut down to the bare bones, it's still watchable if you haven't read the novel. What's missing in the reduced cast of characters is a spot for Zahn Mclarnon as Annie Bird's protector, Gordon.

This is a big, sprawling story with a large cast of characters whittled down below the bare basic story that's still waiting to be told on film. The script was sidetracked into a socially relevant myopia that zooms in on the detail of native women being disappeared. While that is relevant, it isn't the whole picture.

To avoid dismissing a good film because it isn't the whole story, let's just agree that more could have been done with the fine novel, "Through Black Spruce".
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8/10
Stunning slow burn
michaelknight-910845 November 2020
A beautifully shot and well acted and slow paced character study. Watch it in a chilled out mood. I really liked the understated performance of the two lead actors and the soporific tone of the piece.
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6/10
Where is Suzanne ??
elopez-1400517 December 2020
Warning: Spoilers
I loved the actors, but I feel disappointed in the end of the film. After sitting 4 almost 2 hours waiting 4 Suzanne 2 come out of hiding or turn up dead 4 closure 2 the family. Nothing. Not a dam thing. I wasted 2 hours cause there was no ending.
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LOL ???
rainbowfascistparty29 August 2020
Wow, such a mess, where to begin? A stunningly terrible entry into the genre of exploiting the First Nations' missing women (it's a real Canadian tragedy with its own entire genre of exploitation films, there are literally thousands of movies & tv shows about it). It was cute seeing the Native Canadians walking around saying "eh?" & "soorry" & cussing like Cheech & Chong. I just... I can't go on, you'll have to watch it yourself to see how bad it is. Decent effort by all of the actors, but script & story just weren't there; nonexistent. I specifically selected this film because at one time I thought I had seen some promise in Don McKellar as filmmaker; oh dear god, how wrong I was. Nice to see that the ten native actors who star in every movie about Native Americans are still working, I guess. We need a name for this done-to-death Canadian film & tv genre of exploiting the tragedies of First Nations Canadians. I'm gonna spend the next week obsessing about that; what should I name this genre???
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4/10
Mediocre, At Best
Easygoer1018 November 2020
Warning: Spoilers
This film has a few upsides. Unfortunately, there are far more downsides. The script meanders too much. I understand telling a story in a nonlinear fashion, which is fine. Sadly, too much time is spent on unimportant subjects. Conversely, not enough time is spent on the primary issues. A few actors are quite good. However, there are several terrible performances. It's obvious many in the cast have little talent. This is too bad, as the plot is pretty good. I like the lead actress. It goes downhill from there. I suggest skipping this and watch something better.
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3/10
Great acting, awesome backdrop, slim storyline and...
satishd111 July 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Oh Where to begin, where to begin. I've been generally interested in Native American/indigenous people's movies - there's so few of them and it seems to give us a glimpse of the American past, however grim it is. And therefore I set out on Black Spruce the first instance. The actors and actresses looked amazing, the scenery was great and the story seemed to have some meat to it - like a proper thriller!

The shock eventually sets in - it's slow moving. Really slow. One of the aspects that I noticed immediately and confirmed later was how slow the lead actress speaks, with gestures and facial expressions. At first, I chalked this up to the Cree custom and culture, but it gives an different impression on the lead character - that she is not particularly the smart one, and incapable of dealing with the things that are set out for her, namely solving the disappearance. This should have gone away once the story picked up, and gains steam leading us on a wild chase to the truth..that was my expectation. But, the feeling that the lead actress never matched the demands of the story line never leaves, and leaves us deflated and angry at the end.

I beg to ask, why did the makers of this movie demand I spend an hour and a half of my time? Is it because the Tanaya Beatty was a showcase? Did we get to know more about the Cree? Did we solve a crime? Yes, a seemingly bad guy was shot, and that justifies it? I'm sorry, it wasn't just enough!!

The feeling that I mentioned above - that she is incapable of solving never leaves and we end of goading and prodding her to do something? Nothing came. The night club scenes were a sham, her interrogation of Geeta, the former room mate reveals nothing, the photographer just ends up whining, the mother is distraught, the lead male is lost - and at the very end I really hoped Brandon Oakes's character would put the button on it after all. Maybe Suzanne came back? And he met her along the way, things went sideways for reasons that were not his fault..yet we see his anguish of losing his family, but nothing else. It could have been a springboard, to save the twins..but that was too much expectation.

Overall, great acting, awesome acting, but storyline has no meat in it. What a downer. Nothing to see here, unfortunately. Move on.
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4/10
Great acting - boring story
mjdk215 May 2020
Not much more left to say that what I titled it as. Overall the acting is good as is the scenery, the story line however, is lacking to say the least, it drags out and extremely boring - thanks goodness for fast forward.
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