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First Look Review - DON’T SAY ITS NAME

don't say its name review
A cop and park ranger investigate a series of killings in rural Canada.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Rueben Martell

Starring: Sera-Lys McArthur, Madison Walsh, Julian Black Antelope, Samuel Marty

don't say its name poster

I tell you what, there is nothing like a snowbound horror film (SHF). No scary movie is above the atmospheric enhancements that a thick layer of frozen white water further imbues, not even Jaws I reckon. Let the Right One In, The Thing, even dreck like Dreamcatcher (which would arguably be the worst film ever made, if it were not for the snow which gives it an automatic pass): yum yum yum. In horror inclement weather is in itself an abstract character, which brings isolation, chills and an overriding ivory aesthetic of sepulchral beauty to the genre - brrrrr! (While we’re on the subject, let’s crack on with that mooted Friday the 13th reboot which is set in winter, yeah lads?).

Vis-à-vis my predilection for the SHF, imagine my delight when Don’t Say Its Name, Rueben Martell’s north Canadian set directorial debut with co-writing credits shared by Gerald Wexler, opened with the genuinely suspenseful and unsettling death of a teen girl in ice swirled woods, as she is made the target of an unseen driver who stalks the poor kid via dipped headlights cutting through the blizzard, before, brutally, crushing her down into the thickening slush - yikes!

don't say its name review

The stage is set for a beloved SHF...or is it? The major delight of Don’t Say Its Name is its refreshing lack of fealty to genre, and how it instead focuses on telling a detailed, human story, weaving together disparate genre elements in a narrative which is as enjoyable as it is surprising.


Copper Betty (Madison Walsh) and park ranger Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur) are immediately on the case to find the hit and run killer and bring a sense of order and safety back to the community. Problem is that soon enough these are not the only other deaths on their hands: further bodies are piling up in circumstances in which the victims die horribly and beleaguered witnesses are framed. Unbeknownst to our leads, yet made apparent to the audience in slickly produced horror sequences, the deaths are the cause of a weird, supernatural energy represented within the diegesis as a fisheye lensed bird’s eye point of view camera swooping down and killing people to death.

don't say its name review

What delights about Don’t Say Its Name however is how these vivid scenes factor within the otherwise sober mien of the film, which is, for the most part, an earnest drama concerning a close-knit indigenous community facing real-life environmental threats and ongoing, all too convincing, racism (this seems a good place to advise avoiding the indiscreet imdb synopsis, btw). The horror is all the more abject for seeming to invade the established rationality of this universe.


It is the interpersonal relationships between the well-drawn and authentically inhabited characters which gives Don’t Say Its Name its compelling edge, along with a cracking, amusing script – a boffin character refers to a something mentioned in philosophies, and another self-deprecatingly quips, "which one? I’ve read SO many" - just these gentle, unforced witticisms to balance the bloodshed.

don't say its name review

Also genuine (in an era where we are supposed to feel grateful when a decade old major franchise decides to finally feature a gay character - well done!) is the film’s matriarchal dynamic, where it is women who hold the fort, get things done and save the day (and, mild SPOILER, also imperil the day in the first place), an aspect which is pleasingly a feature of the narrative, and not the entire point.

Very occasional ropiness aside, the thoughtful storytelling of Don’t Say Its Name, and the cross-genre pleasures of seeing these soapy characters combat the polar chills of the SHF, proves a wintery joy. Wrap up warm.

Don't Say Its Name is on US/CAN VOD from November 16th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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