Much has been made of Zacharias Kunuk’s new riff on the old western, and when you see its lone gunman traversing icy canyons and barren white plains, you’ll instantly spot the references.
The plot, too, draws from the kidnapping quest at the heart of John Ford’s classic The Searchers. But Kunuk’s film is so much more shaded by his Inuit culture, full of spiritual visions and painstaking re-creations of old-time daily life. It’s also punctuated by terrifying acts undertaken by a gang of outcast men and often obscured in the dim oil light. Rest assured, no one could ever feel more vulnerable and alone, in an igloo, than a mother, two children, and two elderly grandparents in the dead night of winter. The carnage sets the father on a path of revenge, violent but empty—as existential as the best westerns. Kunuk’s mix of frosty panoramas, intense close-ups, and odd handheld sled sequences makes for heady viewing. In the end, Maliglutit is more moody and doesn’t move as quickly as his Atanarjuat, but that 2001 mind-blower was named for a fast runner.