IMDB Link: The Grizzlies (2018)
Director: Miranda de Pencier
Writers: Moira Walley-Beckett, Graham Yost
Stars: Ben Schnetzer, Booboo Stewart, Will Sasso
Synopsis: In a small Arctic town struggling with the highest suicide rate in North America, a group of Inuit students’ lives are transformed when they are introduced to the sport of lacrosse.
Back in 2019, I was part of a Young Programmers’ group in my city that was helping select some of the films that would be shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The Grizzlies ended up being part of the official selection and as part of the team I actually got to watch the first half of the film before it showed at the festival. I never got to finish it then, but I did really enjoy what I saw of the film. It wasn’t until two weeks ago though, when the team promoting the film gave me a link to watch it for review, and I jumped at the chance to watch the film from the start and give it a review here.
The only named actor that I recognised before watching this film was Booboo Stewart, who had previously done some work in the Twilight franchise. He is great here as Kyle, giving the most emotional performance in the film. The story, however, is told primarily by Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer). Schnetzer also does a fantastic job, alongside the entire cast who are all solid and give some great performances throughout.
This film is a tight 104 minutes long, and it is the perfect amount of time to tell this story. There is never a dull moment, because the film focuses on numerous aspects of life as an Inuit and what is expected. Yes, this is a story that takes the approach of The Mighty Ducks or Sister Act 2 and pushes for the students to become better people simply by taking part in a group activity like lacrosse, but it is more than that. It shows the nature vs. nurture aspect of how the students turned out the way they have, and why some of them are simply not able to turn up to class daily.
For an independent budget, this film looks stunning. Shot on location in the Arctic, the outdoor sequences are visually so beautiful to watch. Yet, that is paired with interior shots of their houses and the struggles they face even getting food for the day. It isn’t all beauty, but the cinematography and production design makes sure to capture the tougher moments in this story.
The narrative builds up naturally, including the conflicts that rise up from it. There is a clear message that this film wants to share, and it has to do with a tough subject matter in the form of suicide. Whilst this is a fun watch and has a lot of heart and feel-good moments within it, it does make sure to touch on the heavier subject matters and presents a different side to them. It is simply not just the case of how to help those who are in that dark place, but the people it impacts around them and the guilt and pain that they feel from that circumstance. It’s a theme that runs throughout the film on several moments, and they are handled extremely well.
There will be people who bring up the fact that this can feel like a white saviour film, in which the white man who just came up to the town tries to fix their beliefs and culture. Yet, the film also balances that out in numerous ways which is incredibly important for it to do. Firstly, it is clear from the start that this is based on a true story. Secondly, it is great that the film shows that Russ Sheppard makes mistakes and doesn’t fix everything. Thirdly, I will not spoil the ending but I will just say that it does not go the way most Hollywood films would take it, but it works incredibly well for this film and the story that they are telling.
For a feature directorial debut from Miranda de Pencier, she does a fantastic job with what is an independent film on a small budget. This is wonderfully directed, and especially with the editing on this film. The small budget is used to great effect to bring this town to life, and yet the cinematography captures the gorgeous landscapes so well. It can come across as a white saviour story, but the screenplay does enough to pull away from that. This is a solid film all around, and I hope people get a chance to check it out.