Wild Indian (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): When the past returns to him

“Wild Indian” is a calm but unnerving thriller about two different Indigenous American men who come to face their old dark childhood secret in the past. As slowly rolling its story and characters to the expected narrative point, the movie examines not only their respective guilt but also their gloomy past, and the result is alternatively harrowing and chilling while revealing more of what has been tormenting them for years.

The early part of the movie, which is set in the reservation area of one Indigenous American tribe in 1984, casts a long gray shadow over the rest of the film. We meet two Indigenous American kids who often hang around with each other as close friends, and the movie mainly focuses on how things are miserable and hopeless for them and many others in the area due to poverty and unemployment. In case of Mawka (Phoenix Wilson), this sullen boy has been frequently abused and neglected by his parents who have no idea on what to do with him as well as their own life, and his detached face speaks volumes about his growing anger and resentment.

When Teddo (Julian Gopal) later shows Mawka a rifle belonging to his father, we instantly sense a trouble, and something quite horrible does happen in the end. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you that the resulting incident affects the lives of Teddo and Mawka a lot even though they manage to cover up everything without raising any suspicion from others.

The story subsequently moves forward to 2019, and we observe how much things have changed for both Mawka and Teddo, respectively. Not long after that incident, Mawka, who is now played Michael Greyeyes from this point, left his hometown, and he is currently a successful businessman living in California with everything he wanted. While a certain big business deal for him and his close colleague has been going pretty well, he also has a Caucasian wife and their little son, and now she is going to give him the second kid.

Everything seems fine for him on the surface, but we come to discern that the past is still living well inside Mawka. Although he changed his name to a more, uh, American one, he cannot help but conscious of his race, and there is a little awkward scene where he deliberately throws at his close colleague a possibly sensitive question about his hairdo. When his wife announces to him the upcoming arrival of their second child, he feels rather stiff and baffled, and he is actually more honest to himself when he shows his darker side to a young woman he meets at a strip club later.

Above all, his hidden guilty about what happened at that time still feels strong to him as before. We see Mawka desperately praying alone at a church, but nothing gets better for him nonetheless, and he is also still keeping a certain little incriminating object. Is this a constant reminder of his guilt? Or, is it simply a morbid souvenir from what he managed to get away with?

In the meantime, the movie also pays attention to the current status of Teddo, who is now played by Chaske Spencer. Since that incident, Teddo got himself involved with a number of serious criminal deeds, and he has consequently been incarcerated in a prison for several years, but he is now released with lots of uncertainty in front of him. While he manages to get a job, there is still no future for him, and the only consolation comes from his two family members who come to care a lot about him as living with him for a while.

However, as he tries to make a new beginning for his life, Teddo cannot help but feel more guilt about what happened at that time, and that consequently threatens what Mawka has built for years. While caught off guard by the unexpected return of his old dark past, Mawka is quite willing to suppress it by any means necessary, and the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. steadily follows his following struggle as revealing more of his darker side. At one point where he approaches to a certain person who may cause more trouble for him, he initially looks mild and courteous, but then he shows his old contempt and resentment toward the world he left many years ago, and that is quite chilling to say the least.

As Mawka becomes more heartless and dastardlier along the plot, we come to observe him from the distance with more disgust and horror, but the movie still holds our attention thanks to Greyeyes’ strong lead performance. While never making any excuse on his character, Greyeyes is often intense and compelling as ably conveying to us his character’s guilt, torment, and determination, and I hope we will see more of this talented veteran performer in the future. On the opposite, Chaske Spencer, who previously played a supporting character in the Twilight movies, is also effective in his role, and he and Greyeyes are flawlessly connected with young performers Phoenix Wilson and Julian Gopal, who hold their own place well in the beginning.

In conclusion, “Wild Indian” is worthwhile to watch for its competent storytelling and solid acting, and Corbine, who previously directed several short films, makes a fairly good feature film debut here. As far as I can see, he is a good filmmaker who knows how to engage the audiences, and it is will interesting to see whether he will become another interesting American filmmaker to watch.

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