Judge Daryl Loomis has an imprint on his face that makes him think he slept on his corduroy pants.
Why did you make me do that?!
While stereotypical Native American characters have populated film since the beginning, it is much rarer to find them cast in lead roles at any time. It is a refreshing change; the long history and deep spirituality of Native American societies give many options for standard stories told in non-standard ways. Director Michael Linn (Market 175) constructs one such film in Imprint, combining mystery, spirituality, and race relations into a thriller that manages to rise above many similar films of the same budget.
Facts of the Case
Shayla Stonefeather (Tonantzin Carmelo, King Rikki), a Native American attorney, is prosecuting a member of her own tribe accused of murder. While all signs point to his guilt and the jury finds him this way, the tribe doesn't believe the verdict and feels Shayla has betrayed her people for success in a white world. However, after an escape attempt, the convicted killer is shot by police; and while traveling back to her homeland to visit her dying father, Shayla becomes the victim of resulting prejudice and harassment. At the same time, she begins to see visions that make her doubt that the poor boy was ever guilty.
From the start of the trial's closing statements, the fate of Robbie Whiteshirt (Joseph Medicine Blanket) has already been decided, but Imprint builds slowly, adding layers of style and intrigue, to make the plot increasingly complex. When the reveal does happen, it comes as a surprise because of a dramatic change that seems to come out of the blue, though there is evidence buried into the film to give it some credence. Upon the boy's conviction, Shayla must go back to her tribe to help care for her ailing father and celebrate what will likely be his final birthday. He is senile and nearly mute, aside from random outbursts of cryptic and violent screaming. While dealing with this, her fellow tribe members subject her to harassment. They believe she has betrayed her people for her own success and begin to refer to her as an "apple," red on the outside but white on the inside. Her insecurities are only compounded by her impending marriage to a white politician running for Senate. He tries to convince her to come home for her own safety, but she is home and wants to prove to her people that she's still one of them.
Shayla has been gone for so long, however, she no longer believes in the spirituality so important to her people. In spite of this, she starts to hear voices and banging around her parents' house and her father, still in his near-catatonic state, begins frantically drawing pictures of places that seem like clues to a secret. What is hidden, she cannot tell, but she starts to get scared by all these signs. More than that, she is constantly seeing a wolf beckoning her to follow. After speaking to a shaman, she begins to suspect that maybe, the boy was innocent after all. With this, what begins as a family and racial drama begins to take the form of an investigative thriller and ghost story. This brings her back to her family issues and suspicions about her fiance, who was instrumental in the boy's conviction.
While her spiritual search for answers would never stand in court as evidence, it convinces her to continue the hunt, both in her past and with the tribe. Her mother recalls a time when Shayla was a girl in which she would save all her pennies so she could give them to the bum outside the grocery store. Those days have long since passed; Shayla has grown into a strong woman, one who relies on evidence over her own gut and, in coming back and experiencing her past, including the spirits that haunt her, she is taught valuable lessons in trust and generosity.
These spirits appearing to Shayla represent the real change in the story, and Linn does a very good job of not overplaying them to make the film seem like horror. We see the ghosts and what Shayla sees scares her, but we're never led to believe she is endangered by them; they are much more harbingers of danger from the living world. This makes it much less a ghost story forced into horror conventions than a whodunit using spirituality to highlight apparitions walking the Earth. The direction is solid with few frills, though Linn keeps the story moving well. The cast, populated almost exclusively by Native American actors, does a serviceable job with what they are given, though nothing in any facet of the filmmaking is exceptional. For its meager budget and relatively small level of talent, Imprint works fairly well.
MTI sent over a screener for review, so it is missing bonus materials, with an audio/video presentation that may likely be improved in final product. As it stands, the transfer is anamorphic, though there are some errors and edge enhancement to be found. The stereo sound is adequate but, with all the bumps in the night, I would have appreciated more separation between channels. The retail release contains a commentary by Linn, which could be interesting, but I am in no position to judge.
Imprint is a standard thriller with the rare twist of the Native American story and cast. On its own, this doesn't make the film a must-see, but it comes more highly recommended than many films with similar budgets.
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