by Pat Fox
I’ve always wanted to visit Canada. Seems nice. People have a reputation for friendliness and it has beautiful vistas; plus bears and universal health care which will allow me to live out my power fantasies of taking on a grizzly with a claw hammer and getting patched up for free after the inevitable. And it’s within this bear-filled wilderness that Sean Meehan’s adaption of Jack London’s Lost Face is set.
Opening on the aftermath of a devastating attack by the Nulato people against Russian fur thieves and slavers, last remaining captive Subienkow (Martin Dubreuil) watches as the tribe’s people extract a bloody and protracted vengeance against their former masters. Not particularly keen on experiencing a slow, agonising death for his crimes, Subienkow has to think fast. Shouting out to the Nulato chief Makamuk (Gerald Auger), he asks to be freed in exchange for the recipe of a powerful medicine that makes the skin as hard as iron when applied. To prove its worth, Subienkow promises to make a batch, apply it and let Makamuk strike him with an axe. Makamuk believes it to be a set up but against his better judgement, and despite the protests of freed slave Yakaga (Morris Birdyellowhead), he decides to give in to Subienkow, even agreeing to hand over his daughter to gain the medicine. Subienkow must think fast as time grows short while Makamuk and Yakaga look on with sharp knives.
I’ll be the first to admit that I get twitchy when a film doesn’t stick to the source material. I switched Game of Thrones off when I saw Daenerys’s lack of lilac eyes. But in Lost Face‘s case some deviation is needed. The only reason why I know Subienkow is a fur thief and slaver is due to the original short story and press blurb. There is very little on screen except for the briefest-of-brief moments when Yakaga protests the deal, picking up a flail and reminding Makamuk what was done to them. So many little details from London’s short are left on the pages rather than weaved into the visual or spoken narrative.
That said, the story draws you in, deeper and deeper. You don’t release the full plan of Subienkow until the very end; nothing is telegraphed nor crowbarred in, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Beautifully shot and well acted, this film could have done with a stronger visual narrative.
Director: Sean Meehan
Screenwriter: Sean Meehan
Cast: Martin Dubreuil, Gerald Auger, Morris Birdyellowhead
Producer: Sean Meehan
Music: Elliott Wheeler
Country: Australia/ Canada
Runtime: 14 min