Imprint (2007)

Rating: C-

Dir: Michael Gill
Star: Tonantzin Carmelo, Carla-Rae Holland, Cory Brusseau, Dave Bald Eagle

At first, this looked likely to inspire a coma-inducing drinking game: take a shot for every cliche of Native American culture. Our heroine (Carmelo), prosecutor Shayla Stonefeather [swig!] drives back to her family home, going through a herd of buffalo [glug!] and past a howling wolf [hic!] to a house apparently decorated entirely from a reservation swap-meet, filled with dreamcatchers [gurgle…], blankets on the walls [don’t… feel… well…] and zuni bear artwork [medic!]. Okay. She’s an Indian. We get the point.

She is not well-liked by some of her tribe, having just convicted one of murder, despite the testimony of his brother. Shayla’s own sibling vanished a couple of years back, and hasn’t been heard from, even though their father is now heading towards the happy hunting ground. When her car is vandalized, and she starts to hear things going bump in the night, as well as experience smoky visions, is she re-connecting with her people, or is simply her mind playing tricks and there’s a prosaic explanation? Fortunately, after the early overkill, which had our eyes rolling like a banks of slots at the local tribal casino, this calmed down, and was a good deal better for it. Not necessarily great, mind you, but we stopped feeling like this was a blunt instrument and could concentrate on the story, though I can’t say anything about it was a surprise.

The imagery of Shayla’s visions is nicely handled, hovering just on the edge of visibility, in a way that misleads as much as it enlightens; our son pointed out that Carmelo looks not unlike Jessica Alba, which may or may not be a good thing. There’s no doubt that Native American culture and mythology is a rich, verdant source that can be mined for cinema, particularly ghost stories, and they’re also sadly underepresented in Hollywood. However, the films which result need to be much less like being clubbed over the head, and replacing one cultural stereotype with another isn’t really much of an improvement.